I’ve lived in Sydney, Australia for a little over two years now. While the process of moving halfway across the world is tough, I have felt very at ease in Australia. As a foreigner I don’t feel that I am any sort of social burden on Australian society. I have a job, I pay taxes, I accumulate super, and I’m enrolled in Medicare. Australia has been a very welcoming place for a displaced Canadian.
However, I sometimes feel that this comfort is a bit tenuous. I am still not a Permanent Resident (to be decided next August or so) and I am painfully aware that the Australian government could, for whatever reason, simply kick me out. At the moment I’m a guest here and, for the most part, I behave like a guest; I take my shoes off, I don’t raise my voice, and I say “Thank you” on my way out the door.
But occasionally I really, really, find it hard to be a polite guest as every now and then my host says or does something that I vehemently disagree with. What am I supposed to do? Speak up? Criticize my host in their own home? As an outsider, do I have any right to criticize a country that has taken me in? Or should I sit quietly in the corner, nodding politely, pretending that everything is all lollipops and rainbows?
The Australian government recently announced that it would put a freeze on accepting refugees from Africa next year. This includes refugees from the hellish Darfur region of Sudan. At one point, 70% of Australia’s refugee intake was from Africa; that has dropped to 30% this year, and next year it seems there won’t be any. Australia is not reducing it’s overall refugee intake, just exchanging African refugees for refugees from Iraq and Burma (which are, without doubt, two other regions with massive population displacement).
The reasons for this policy change is that, according to Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, African refugees are having a hard time integrating into Australian society. Leaders of Australia’s Sudanese community are, understandably, pissed off; they don’t see any problems with integration, at least in the context of immigration in general. It’s never easy, as I can attest to, but to isolate just one group as causing problems in nightclubs and forming gangs is, at best, ignorant and, at worst, racist.
Some have said that this move is strictly political; that in the run up to next month’s election, Howard’s government is trying to appeal to the “rural” communities of Australia who, apparently, don’t care so much for the Sudanese. If this argument is true it is troubling for a couple reasons, the first being the fact that there is apparently a section of the Australian community who might be more comfortable living in the American south prior to the civil rights movement. But to pander to that minority for political gain? Disgusting.
Now if that argument is completely false what are we left with? Either the Immigration Minister genuinely believes what he’s saying which makes him wrong and short-sighted. Or maybe he’s just kind of xenophobic – not the best type of person to have as IMMIGRATION Minister.
I am fully prepared to admit that I am pretty biased on this issue. I’ve previously yelled at Today Tonight for its racism about the same group of people: they went after my boys collecting shopping carts in parking lots! I LOVE those guys. On a more daily basis, I work with kids from Sudan, Liberia, and Sierra Leone so I know how much it means to them to be able to live in a country free of warfare and mass violence. Just being able to go to school is a gift for some of these kids and they work hard every minute they’re in a classroom. I also worked on a project at uni on Darfur and recently read an amazing book concerning one of Sudan’s Lost Boys. (I can’t recommend Dave Eggers’ What is the What enough; one of the best books I’ve read this year, easy.)
Maybe if Kevin Andrews had had any of these experiences he’d be more sympathetic to the need of African refugees right now. Sadly, it doesn’t make the news very often anymore but there are still people dying in Darfur every day. This is not the time to close the door. Australia prides itself on being the nation of a “fair go” but some days I find that harder to believe than others; I think this is really sad because most Australians I know embody this spirit wholeheartedly. If only the same could be said for all of its politicians.
I’ll try to be a polite guest if I’m invited over again.