Friday, October 23, 2009

Borders and jumping the queue

from w
Over many years we have been associated with helping Fijians and other Pacific Islanders to fix up their residential status in Australia with a lot of legal tangles, Detention Centre visits, etc. But those who come to Australia by plane and mess up their visas don't get the same publicity as those who come by leaky boats from Indonesia after leaving their problematic situations in places like Sudan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan. There is much paper talk about them in Australia as there are about 1000 at the Detention Centre in Christmas Island waiting for visas to stay on.

Some say they are jumping the queue while others slowly, carefully, fill in hundreds of pages of forms. Others say that they are desperate people wanting to survive. Kevin Rudd commented on people smugglers as 'vermin' yet the man he really admires, Dietrich Bonhoffer, smuggled Jewish people out of Germany during World War 2. I think the criticism is not that 'people smugglers' are always bad per se, but that the Indonesian 'people smugglers' demand large sums of money from the desperate people escaping from dire situations.

Peceli and I were at a Diversitat meeting on Thursday night (Diversitat started as the Geelong Migrant Resource Centre) and one of the speakers - the guy who works with new settlements recently was in Thailand visiting a refugee camp for Karen people who crossed the border from Burma. There were 65000 people in the camp! He showed pictures and honestly, many of the people had lived there a whole generation. Then on the TV news I saw that in Sri Lanka there is a camp (looked after by the military) of about 250,000 Tamils dislocated by the war there. And yet some Australians get concerned about a mere 1000 people.

In Geelong some of the Afghan young men have been relocated from Christmas Island - 8 each week, recently, and they have been housed, and assisted in many ways especially by a free migration worker to fill out forms, English language classes, etc. However many have moved on the Melbourne to suburbs such as Dandenong, where there is a network of Afghan people.

Crossing borders is a complex issue and just won't go away in this desperately divided world. I am sure that Fiji would be inundated with leaky boats if it wasn't so far away in the Pacific Ocean!


Andrew Thornley said...

Well spoken Wendy. I agree totally with your sentiments. Thankyou.
And by the way, on an entirely different matter - you must get to read Dr Matt Tomlinson's new book: In God's Image: The Metaculture of Fijian Christianity. It's a wonderful anthropolgical - sociological analysis of the Methodists in Fiji and Kadavu in particular, written in plain English. You and Peceli will really enjoy it. It's a very important contribution to our understanding of Fijian Methodism.
Dr Tomlinson lectures at Monash University and I would suggest you get in touch with him there. He will be interested to know about your activities in Geelong.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

Thank for the reference Andrew to the book. I'll look out for it. Not writing much as I'm having computer problems and have to go up to the church or library to catch up on email, etc. I'm playing for a funeral in half an hour so am catching up in the church office. 'What a wonderful world' is playing.

Peceli and Wendy's Blog said...

There's a major standoff now with the Tamil men refusing to leave the boat and go ashore into Indonesia to a detention camp there. Well, they've paid good money to the smuggler and do not want anything other than to reach Australia! If force is used, that's really bad PR and not humane of course. Surely the International body about refugees needs to be brought in for advice etc.
I've been listening to some radio programs where people phone in and some of the comments are really cruel.

Andrew Thornley said...

On this matter of the Tamil refugees, a couple of comments.
1. More than 90% of Australia's "illegal" immigrants come from people who fly into Australia, then overstay their visitor's Visa and eventually apply for permanent residency. Most of these people are young travellers from Europe. They easily "morph" into the population.
As someone said: "leaky boats are sexier than planes" in the minds of newspaper editors and TV programmers.
2. More needs to be done by the United Nations to bring the Sri Lankan government to account and demand that they cease the persecution of the Tamil minority now that they are helpless and defeated in camps. These people are told in no unceratin terms that they are unwelcome in the country of their birth so they have no option but to flee. Sri Lanka must allow many more UNHCR people into the camps so the people's claim for refugee status can be processed there and all countries be involved in determining their future, if indeed it has to be outside of Sri Lanka which ought not to be a given.