I’m going to stop you right there. Just like Tony Abbott wanted to stop the boats, I want to stop you. Before we embark, please take some time to watch this video. While I may not be as funny as John Oliver and his writers, we seem to share some of the same interests. Making fun of Tony Abbott is one of them.
However, right now I am not here to make fun of Tony Abbott, or his onion-eating habits, or the fact that he looks like a monkey. I’m here to talk about the fact that Australia has 5% of the world’s land area, and about 0.003% of the world’s population – and yet, prior to Sept. 9, the Australian Government only agreed to take in roughly 13,750 refugees the whole year. This included all refugees fleeing from Syria – to which Abbott so kindly agreed to let in an extra 12,000 Syrian refugees.
To put it in numbers, if we let all 25,750 asylum seekers migrate to Australia, we would still have only 0.003% of the world’s population.
This wasn’t the first time that Abbott has come head to head with immigration. In 2013, he started the “stop the boats” campaign, which consequently defined his prime ministership. Abbott told Australia that he was going to prevent all ‘illegal’ migrant boats from arriving on Australian onshore. Despite the fact that around 90% of asylum seekers arriving by boat were ‘genuine’ refugees. 99.7% of asylum seekers from Afghanistan were also genuine.
Since January 2014, there has only been one illegal boat that has landed on Australian shores. Abbott did it, he stopped the boats. But, where are all the refugees? There is no possible way that Australian laws could have been communicated back to asylum seekers in Afghanistan or Tamil. Abbott’s government set up offshore detention centers, where asylum seekers are kept – with no chance of ever becoming an Australian citizen.
The best part of it is that we were a country made of immigrants. I would not be here if my great grandfather had not immigrated from China in the 1930’s. To think that if he had immigrated today, I would not have had the same life. I would not be able to say, with pride, that I am both Australian and Chinese. And I can be both. I come from an immigrant family: both sides came on boats, both sides moved for a different life. Just because my great grandfather was not the first person to land, does not mean that he wasn’t a part of Australia too.
In 1878, “Advance Australia Fair” was composed as a song of patriotism, and was to be adopted in 1984 as the Australian National Anthem. In the second chorus, there is one line: “For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share.” At the time of composition, Australia was yet to become a federation: it was merely an immigrant island in the middle of the Pacific, with boundless plains to share.
For clarification, we were not an island of criminals. The myth that England shipped its worst murderers and serial killers over to Australia is, somewhat sadly, false. Instead, those who had committed petty crimes (such as stealing a loaf of bread) were sentenced to seven years on another British colony. An immigrant is defined as a person that permanently moves to another country. By this definition, every person on that ship was an immigrant. Not only is Australia a country built by immigrants, the immigrants were moved to a better land: a land where they could start a new life – only after they survived the scurvy-ridden boat trip – and start a new country.
Over the next hundred years, people from other countries, such as China, immigrated to Australia. The gold rush of 1851 encouraged thousands of Chinese citizens from 汕头 (Shantou) and 厦门 (Xiamen) to move to Australia in the hope of becoming wealthy.
But, apparently Australia no longer had “boundless plains to share”. The Chinese were ‘stealing’ jobs, and stealing the gold. Subsequently, the Australian Commonwealth Government introduced the Immigration Restriction Act of 1901, or informally known as the White Australia Policy.
As awful, racist and discriminatory as it was – applicants were forced to take a dictation, which could be in any European language – people were just sent away. Not forced to be imprisoned offshore. Currently, inmates, or ‘illegal asylum seekers’, are stripped of their name, identity, and nationality. There have been cases of abuse, situations where inmates are given a number – stripped of any identity. They belong to the prisoner island – and not the island of prisoners they were searching for. They have become one of many that risked their life in the hope that we would share our land with those who have come across the seas. And we haven’t been sharing that land. In fact, I can think of very few cases where people have been willing to share land. Hell, some people shudder at the idea of sharing a table with a stranger.
It’s hard to imagine being denied from starting a new life. Being stopped at the border of hope, just because you didn’t have the documents, or you came on an illegal boat. Maybe we’re just selfish, but we can look at the faces of Syrian refugees and think that “Oh, it’s on the other side of the world, it doesn’t matter.”
To all you portal students, don’t turn away from me just yet. Remember that class we all took? If Global Perspectives of Society was meant to teach us one thing, it was to be inviting and to be worldly. We are meant to be moving towards cosmopolitanism, but we do not seem to be taking any action. I wish this was only Australia’s problem, but why hasn’t the United States done anything? Are they too busy watching their land borders? Thinking about Kim Kardashian’s new baby? I am pleading, think about them.
What if it was you?
This article was written by Isabella Farr. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.
Photo Credit: Isabella Farr