Comment: Why the right is wrong about 'boat people'

Primary school teacher Andrew had strongly-held views which were challenged throughout Go Back To Where You Came From. Source: SBS

I changed my mind about asylum seekers. Here's why.

Boat people, illegals, queue jumpers, economic migrants, county shoppers.

All terms used to denigrate refugees and asylum seekers, especially those arriving by boat. Why do we use those terms? Why do we ignore or demonise such human tragedy? 

I was somebody who used those terms. I was somebody who said they were country shoppers. That once they fled the immediate risk they should stay in the adjacent country. That they should stay and fight for their freedoms in their own country.  I attacked people from the left as impractical, occupying the moral high ground but with no realistic understanding of the issues. 

Sound familiar? How many of you have used the same arguments or had the same thoughts?

There must be quite a lot of us because we now have both the government and opposition fighting to show who can be the harshest in their treatment of boat people.

They are only doing that because they think that will get them votes from you and I. 

And why do we do it?


We live in the best country in the world. We enjoy an incredible standard of living. Immense freedom.

And all by luck.

This is the lucky country. We like to think we achieve things through hard work; that we have earnt them. But really, we were just lucky to be born at the time we were in this country. 

So we look at the millions and millions of less fortunate in the world - especially refugees. There are about 60 million displaced people in the world of which over 20 million are official refugees in the world. We cannot help them all. And so we feel guilty.

Then a strange thing happens.

We begin to blame them for their misfortune. We blame them for having the bad luck to be born in a war torn country. We blame them for having the bad luck to live under an oppressive dictatorship. And then we blame them for daring to try and escape this for a better life.

How dare they. 

We of the right do this in other areas as well. We blame the unemployed for being unemployed, the homeless for being homeless, and so on.

Our view tends to be, "Well, I made it and am successful so why aren't you? It must be because you are lazy." And so on, and so forth.

Yet how much of our success is through hard work and how much is through chance? Knowing the right person? Or being in the right place at the right time?

Deep down we realise that luck plays a big part in our success. We feel guilty because others have not had the same luck.

And so we blame them. They are lazy. They waste their money. They don't want to work, and so on. 

With refugees, this guilt is magnified. Hell, these people didn't even have the luck to be born here. 

Then we get to the other reason. Fear of the different. We fear the different. It's okay to fear the different. Humans have been doing it for thousands of years.

But we don't like to admit it. In modern times we feel unable to admit that deep down we just don't like some people because they are different. Different looks, different language, different religions, different customs. 

So we make up reasons. They don't assimilate. They don't contribute. They stay on welfare. They don't follow our way of life. All of these may be true to an extent.

But that is the argument used against the different for ever. But Australia is a nation of difference. And you know what? Over time the different blends into the normal. We discover that deep down they are just like us. Which of course makes us feel guilty about how lucky our lives are. And so it all starts over again. 

So we think of more reasons not to accept them. They should arrive "the right way". Through the front door. Joining the queue. We justify this by saying that we should help the most needy, the most desperate, those who are left in refugee camps. We say the words but deep down we know that this means we won't have to accept anybody.

Feel free to attack me. Feel free to argue your position to me. But before you do, look deep inside and be honest to yourself about why you allow us to treat boat people so inhumanely.

I have been forced to face that question honestly and it was painful. The truth hurts.

But not as much as we hurt asylum seekers.

Andrew appears on Go Back To Where You Came From which airs Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 8.30pm on SBS.  

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