“This country can support so many more people.”

“This country can support so many more people.”

A really wonderful piece sent to me by a reader. Seriously interesting. 

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Australia’s unhealthy fear of ‘boat people’

Really worth watching – About ‘boat people’, by a ‘boat person’. Note to self: Buy ‘The Frightened Country’.

Who helps? Organisations aiming to improve the lives and perception of asylum seekers

Amnesty International:

Amnesty is a non-government organisation focused on ensuring the respect of human rights for all people worldwide, particularly refugees and asylum seekers. Their motto is “It is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness”. This non-profit organisation has more than 3 million supporters worldwide, and is financed largely by donations from the public. According to the Amnesty website, they do not accept donations from the government. This is so as to maintain full independence from government, political ideologies, economic or religious interests. According to Amnesty, “by way of ethical fundraising leading to donations from individuals, we are able to stand firm and unwavering in our defence of universal and indivisible human rights”. 

UNHCR:

The UN Refugee Agency is a United Nations organisation focused on protecting and supporting refugees. Their mission is to support the ‘uprooted and stateless’ through education, advocacy, policy-making and aid. UNHCR relies almost solely on donations for its funding. 

UNICEF:

UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) provides humanitarian aid and assistance to children and mothers throughout the world. UNICEF’s funding comes from both government and private sources. UNICEF’s focus areas include basic education, gender equality, HIV/AIDS, child protection, survival and development, and policy advocacy. 

Refugee Council of Australia:

RCOA is another non-government organisation, which promotes the adoption of flexible, humane and practical policies towards refugees and asylum seekers both within Australia and internationally through conducting research, advocacy, policy analysis and community education. RCOA is funded by donations and grants from government bodies. 

ActNow:

ActNow is a youth-focused, non-government organisation focused on improving life for young people. With a significant focus on human rights, education surrounding asylum seekers, refugees, and displaced persons is a large part of this organisation. ActNow encourages people to pursue their passion, and provides information in the form of a ‘toolkit’ relating to how to achieve goals, as well as lists of organisations which welcome volunteers etc. 

LINKS:

http://www.unhcr.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/home

http://www.amnesty.org.au/

http://www.unicef.org.au/

http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/

http://www.actnow.com.au/

Guest Post: Amnesty International Intern.

This week, we were lucky enough to catch up with Ash who interned at Amnesty International in 2012. Amnesty is an NGO with a focus on human rights. Amnesty’s mission statement speaks of a “vision of a world in which every person enjoys all of the rights stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international human rights standards”. One of Australia’s most significant human rights abuses relates to our treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and as such Amnesty work tirelessly to achieve justice for these individuals. Having interned as a refugee caseworker, Ash has first hand insight into the treatment of refugees in Australia and the work Amnesty does to improve the lives of refugees who reach our shores.

I moved to Australia in 2012 to begin a postgraduate degree – Master of Human Rights Law and Policy. Born in India, I had previously studied in Malaysia, and then completed my undergraduate International Relations degree in the UK. As a requirement for my postgraduate degree, I had to undertake a human rights internship. I was fascinated by the treatment of refugees in Australia at the time, and was extremely lucky to be granted a six month internship with Amnesty International as a refugee caseworker. My time there taught me more than university ever did. Already passionate about human rights, this internship only solidified my desire to make a career out of achieving justice for those who have had their human rights ignored.

I had a diverse range of clients from countries. Some, on paper, had very little in common. Many were young women, some with children to care for. I also worked with many older men who had arrived in Australia alone, hoping to earn some money before being able to bring their family out also. However, they all had things in common. All had fled their war-torn countries scared for their lives. All felt they had no other option. None country-shopped and came to Australia looking forward to a relaxing beach getaway. None aimed to take jobs or resources from Australian people. They simply wished to live.

In my time at Amnesty, I met the most desperate people I have ever encountered. I visited a detention centre and tried to aid clients who had already been waiting for years, with no end in sight. The longer they had been there, the more hopeless they seemed to become. I remember one client in particular. He came to Australia with his wife in 2010, via boat. His wife died en route. After waiting for two years, he told me he had a plan to kill himself if he was not released by the end the year. He felt he had nothing to live for – living in conditions perhaps worse than those he had fled. He had lived in fear of persecution before fleeing his country, at least then, though, he had the freedom to flee.

The way Australia treats asylum seekers is simply wrong. These individuals are not criminals aiming to take over our country. They are human beings, just like you and me, who only want to be safe and give their children a brighter future. The way the Australian government and media treats refugees is hostile, xenophobic, and completely inhumane. I urge the Australian people, particularly the next generation, to not reflect these views. Stand up for human rights.

A big thanks to Ash for sharing her experience as an Amnesty International Intern. To learn more about Amnesty’s work, visit http://www.amnesty.org.au/refugees/

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Blog Action Day 2013 – Human Rights Edition.

Today is Blog Action Day. Started in 2007, the purpose of Blog Action Day (BAD) is to unite bloggers all across the world to blog about one important topic. This year, that topic is Human Rights. For RTB, the timing couldn’t be better. 

For Blog Action Day, I thought I’d post something explaining where my passion for this cause comes from. Ignorance has always been an enemy of mine. Nothing frustrates me more than closed-minded people who approach what they do not understand with hate and hostility rather than empathy and compassion. This is probably what inspired me to begin a Social Work degree. 

When I began that degree, my passion for Human Rights, in particular relating to international relations and refugees and asylum seekers only intensified. However, halfway through my second degree I came to the conclusion that as an intensely emotional and fragile person, a career in social work probably wouldn’t be the best thing for me. I don’t seem to have the ability to separate work from home, so I changed degrees to Media Production. I knew that change would be better for me in the long run, and I wouldn’t suffer the dreaded social worker burnout in just a few short years. 

As a hater of mainstream, sensationalised media, I hope to have a career that involves combatting that type of reporting with informed, accurate, respectful media that doesn’t gain attention through the dehumanisation or humiliation of any people. 

I am particularly inspired by organisations like Amnesty International, Oxfam and UNICEF, and the type of reporting portrayed on the ABC and SBS. Factual, interesting news that respects human rights and endeavours to provide news more important than the old ‘I slipped on a grape in Woolworths’ or ‘How much sugar is really hiding in your cereal’ stories often featured in mainstream current affairs and news programs. 

Anyway – that’s the story of my passion. What’s yours? What makes your blood boil? What inspires you to make a change in the world? Comment and tell me about your passion!

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Mandatory detention and asylum seekers.

As most people would know, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia are subject to rigorous security checks whilst forced to remain in detention. Mandatory detention does not discriminate against age or health, with children and the sick still forced to live indefinitely in detention centres.

For people fleeing persecution, rape, torture, war and trauma, this experience is incredibly damaging. These individuals arrive in Australia, desperate for help, safety and a new life, but instead are exposed to more trauma and treated as criminals.

Australia has recently been awarded an ‘F’ on a report card from the UN when it comes to our treatment of asylum seekers and refugees, largely due to this inhumane experience.

Whilst it is perfectly legal to seek asylum, those who arrive without visas are held in detention until granted a visa, which often takes years.

In this way, Australia violates human rights set out in treaties to which we are a signatory. According to these guidelines, everyone has the right not to be subject to arbitrary detention and children should be detained only as a last resort, and for the shortest time possible. On top of this, anyone who is detained has the right to appeal their detention in court and should have access to legal advice and assistance.

Australia is in direct violation of these treaties. Not only is detention mandatory, it is not time limited and those detained are unable to successfully appeal. While they may seek a judicial review, Australian courts have no authority to release a person from mandatory detention – rendering this process ultimately useless.

Mandatory detention is a damaging, expensive process that is in direct violation of human rights. Australia needs to put a stop to this inhumane practice ASAP to avoid further trauma for those already suffering. Community-based alternatives are a much more humane, compassionate option which allows asylum seekers to contribute to society and move on from the trauma they have escaped.

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Australia’s attitude.

After much research, searching tags and keywords and deliberating over the blasphemy that is mainstream news, I constantly find myself asking why Australia’s attitude is the way it is. Of course I acknowledge that each individual has a different point of view and rationale for their opinion, but again and again I see a very hostile attitude towards refugees and those less fortunate than us. I find this incredibly ironic in a country where many of those who would call themselves Australian are here due to the fact that their ancestors arrived by (drumroll please) none other than the much hated boat.

Why are those fleeing war, rape and torture today seen to be criminals, whilst as a fellow blogger pointed out, those escaping the Nazis in WWII were seen as heroic? (http://maryd2303.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/thinking-about-refugees/)

And where does the sense of entitlement rife in so many Australians come from?

I for one do not believe I deserve any privilege more than any other human being in this world. I don’t understand the thinking that because I was lucky enough to be born in a safe, free country, I somehow deserve more than those who weren’t. Shouldn’t we, the fortunate, be responsible for providing aid, understanding and compassion to those who are less fortunate? Why do we greet those who have experienced more trauma than most Australians could possibly imagine with more trauma and hostility?

#ROCKTHEBOAT and replace hostility with compassion, and hatred with education.

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Go Back To Where You Came From.

For those who didn’t get the opportunity to see it – Go Back to Where You Came From was an extraordinary television series produced by SBS in 2011. The series followed six Australians from different walks of life, with very different view and opinion on refugees and asylum seekers. These individuals then experienced the reverse refugee journey to Australia. Deprived of money, phones and passports, they were sent to live with newly settled refugees in Australia. They heard these individuals stories before boarding a real refugee boat. They spend time in Malaysia, live in a Kenyan refugee camp and visit Jordan before ultimately visiting Congo and Iraq.

This experience aimed to challenge uninformed opinions about refugees and asylum seekers, and gave six Australians the opportunity to walk a mile in the shoes of those they criticise.

Personally, I originally found the program very hard to watch, with many of the participants having extremely racist and uneducated opinions about those who risk their lives to seek asylum in Australia. As the program continued, however, most of the participants began to feel empathy and understanding for refugees, and their attitudes began to align more with my own morals and beliefs.

On it’s premiere night, the program became the number one trending topic on twitter – worldwide. This is a clear example of how what is portrayed in the media has a huge ability to influence conversation and interest on a very large scale. It was the highest rated and most watched program on SBS for all of 2011.

For those who missed it (or even for those who didn’t), I’d definitely recommend watching the series on YouTube. It is a true eye-opener.

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MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT REFUGEES AND ASYLUM SEEKERS PART TWO

Myth #4 – Australia is taking in too many refugees. 

This one is a matter of opinion, but in relation to the rest of the world Australia is home to very very few refugees. Currently, Australia has 1.1 refugees for every 1000 citizens. Of industrialised nations, in 2010 Australia received just 2.2% percent of the world’s asylum applications. To put it in perspective, in 2010, Australia received 6879 refugees by boat – Only enough people to fill 6.8% of the seats in the MCG.

Myth #5 – Refugees receive higher allowances from the Australian government than aged pensioners. 

This is truly one of Today Tonight’s favourites. Refugees do not receive any sort of payment from Centrelink or the Australian Government for simply being a refugee. Once granted refugee status, they are able to apply for financial assistance in the same way and for the same amount as any other Australian, but there is no pension or allowance for simply being a refugee. A single mother who is a refugee and a single mother who is not will both receive the same pension of $611.90 a fortnight – still less than a single aged pensioner receives.

It’s time to rethink refugees, and if someone says something ignorant, uneducated or unkind – don’t be afraid to rock the boat.

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Misconceptions about refugees and asylum seekers part one

Due to our constant engagement with media, many values and ideas expressed through these forums become engrained as part of our own belief systems. We have a tendency to trust the media when perhaps we shouldn’t – particularly when it comes to mainstream media (*cough*cough* Today Tonight/ACA) who seem particularly inclined to present sensationalist viewpoints with little regard for the truth in many cases.

Due to this, many Australians believe things about refugees and asylum seekers that simply are not true. Let’s get a few things straight.

Myth #1 – It is illegal for a refugee to arrive in Australia by boat.

In accordance with the UN Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory), refugees have the right to enter a country for the purpose of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or what travel documents they may or may not have.

Myth #2 – Asylum seekers who arrive by boat are ‘queue-jumpers’. 

By definition, a refugee is someone who is outside of their country of origin. You therefore cannot apply for refugee status whilst still residing in your country. This means applying on shore is the standard process for refugee status. There is no ‘queue’ that asylum seekers who arrive by boat are trying to avoid. They are seeking asylum in the only way possible.

Myth #3 – Asylum seekers who arrive by boat present a threat to Australian security. 

Almost 90% of asylum seekers who have arrived by boat have been found to be genuine refugees. Interestingly, of asylum seekers who arrive in another way, with some sort of documentation, only 40-45% are found to be genuine refugees. This means asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat are twice as likely than those who come by plane with documentation to be genuine refugees. On top of this, the UN Refugee Convention excludes individuals who have committed war crimes, crimes against humanity or other serious crimes from achieving refugee status. This means serious criminals are not able to seek asylum in Australia.