What’s In a Name?
On the Oct 3rd 2013, more than 300 people drowned off the coast of Italy. They were described as African Migrants who were being transported to Italy by people smugglers. In the weeks before and after, more drownings have occurred, as thousands of people trying to escape dangerous conflict or desperate poverty undertake risky journeys in unsafe and overcrowded boats in order to seek asylum.
National Day of Mourning In Italy
The Italian Government responded with a day of national mourning, and instruction to their navy patrol boats to extend their patrols to enable them to intersect and rescue asylum seekers from risky situations and transfer them safely to Italian shores.
The Current Message from Australia is, ” Don’t Try, You Won’t Get In.”
In Australia, faced with a similar experience of rising numbers of desperate people making dangerous journeys in the hope of finding a safe place to live, most mainstream politicians have chosen to tackle the problem by creating processes designed to make the few people who manage to get to Australian shores feel most unwelcome and unwanted. This is in spite of the historical evidence that more than 90% of arrivals are eventually found to be genuine refugees, and are officially accepted into the country. This amounts to a process of punishing very vulnerable people for trying to find a safe haven.
Successive Australian Governments have talked up the need for greater border protection, and the navy has been engaged to intersect the boats further away from Australia, not to save people who are at risk of drowning, but to push the problem back to other countries. Those who do get to Australia are immediately transported to some place that is not Australia, to be held, without processing, for an indeterminate period that could be years.
Dehumanising and Demonising.
The latest process of deterring potential asylum seekers from attempting to reach Australian shores is to focus on the language used to define and describe the new arrivals. The new officially determined description is “Illegal Entrants” and when those people are immediately transported to the mostly offshore holding places, (like jails, where they are locked up behind security fences to stop escapes), they become “Detainees”.
Some are accused of being “Economic Migrants” as though all they were looking for was a better income. The “Stop the Boats” mantra has already successfully labelled all the individuals on the boats as “Boat People” who are “Illegals”. They are no longer individuals with unique life stories, and no safe place to call home.
Dehumanising, or categorising individuals into a group that can be negatively labelled, (boat people, illegal entrants, economic migrants) is a first step to demonising those same individuals, (“detainees”, people needing to be locked up and kept out of our communities, not even allowed on our soil). Selective reporting of issues by a compliant media adds to the demonising process. We are not able to hear the stories of individuals, and get an understanding of the fear that has forced them to make dangerous journeys.
For example it has been reported on a number of occasions that some of the “illegal entrants” who have been allowed into the community have committed crimes, some of which are serious crimes. What is not reported or commented on, is that if the percentage of new arrivals who have committed crimes was compared to the percentage of Australians who have committed similar crimes, we might arrive at the conclusion that the new members of our community are much more law abiding than the average Australian.
A Conscious Process with Serious Consequences
This process of renaming and labelling is not new or unknown in its purpose and process. History is littered with devastating accounts of governments defining groups of people as less than human, then progressively attributing evil or undesirable intentions to them.
The process is very effective in making individuals disappear into a group that is “different”, and then progressively characterised as undesirable, unwanted and a threat to good order. We can no longer easily hear or see the individual, and forming our own opinion through individual contact or objective information becomes very difficult. In effect, the government manipulation of the language we hear helps the issue to disappear from the front of mind of the average citizen, and assists an “out of sight, out of mind” position that allows the government of the day to be less transparent and accountable.
Are Australian Politicians Representing Your Views?
There are millions of desperate people around the world undertaking perilous journeys in the hope of finding a safe place to live. There are no simple answers, and there is an urgent need for proper understanding and concerted, co-operative action. Governments need to provide leadership and also to engage the support and understanding of the people they represent, if long term solutions are going to be developed. This is a world-wide major humanitarian crisis, and solutions will not come without informed discussion and debate. The current rhetoric of dehumanisation and demonisation can only lead to misinformation, prejudicial attitudes and growing insensitivity to the human tragedies that are occurring outside of our much safer environments.
– Is this how you want your government to treat vulnerable people?
– Do you believe that all asylum seekers should be locked up?
– Would you treat people asking for your help in this way?
– Do you want people smuggling to be stopped without denying asylum seekers their basic human rights?
It is critical that our politicians make a commitment to consciously and consistently avoid using demeaning and emotive language for political purposes, so that an informed, rational and humanitarian solution can be found to respond to the growing number of desperate individuals who are asking for asylum from persecution and death. After all, it is not hard to understand what an asylum seeker is saying. It translates universally to “please help me!”
You are not an individual without power and influence. The issue is whether you are heard when you speak. Today, social media gives you a much greater chance to be heard, because you can join with others who are expressing similar views, or your very unique point of view can be seen by thousands of others. You can play a significant part in ensuring the decision makers have a better understanding of what people are thinking.
If politicians are not representing your feelings on the treatment of asylum seekers, I urge you to sign the petition.
We may not agree on how the asylum issue can be resolved, but surely we can agree that labelling and punishing the vulnerable people who are asking for help, is not the way Australians treat people in need. By signing, you stand with others, and collectively we can ask all politicians to declare where they stand.
You can play a significant part in ensuring the decision makers have a better understanding of what people are thinking, and encourage them to enter an informed conversation with us on how to respond to the humanitarian issue of aslyum seekers.
You Can Help. Please stand up, and share it with your friends and family.
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