Empathy has been spiriting citizens and politicians around the world to welcome migrants who have been pouring out of countries lacerated with war and conflict as pressure on Australia’s Prime Minister mounts to meet their efforts.
A First Nations human rights professional, however, is asking why we are waiting for Mr Abbott’s word when the voices of Indigenous Australians are intrinsic to the refugee debate as the First Peoples of this continent.
Tammy Solonec, a proud Nigena woman from Derby in the Kimberley and the Indigenous rights manager at Amnesty International Australia, told NITV that First Peoples had been denied a voice but they were some of the most important voices that could contribute to mitigating the crisis.
"I don't think we have much of a voice at all in this and possibly we could," Ms Solonec said. "It's all being done without our participation and this is our land, you know, we need to be involved in those discussions."
Ms Solonec's background gives her a unique perspective into the crisis. Her mother is a Nigena woman and her father was born in a refugee camp just outside of Perth after his parents fled Europe after WWII.
"It's all being done without our participation and this is our land, you know, we need to be involved in those discussions"
"I'm proud of my mixed ancestry and know from my dad just how hard it is for refugees fleeing their homes and families," she said. "It took dad years to find his extended family and I often felt sorry for him and his siblings because they never had the uncles, aunties, cousins and extended family to support them like we do."
There is a total 59.5 million forcibly displaced people around the world, the highest number the planet has encountered. Syrians account for the largest refugee population in the world as of early September, with 4 million, 2 million of them children, registered or awaiting registration with the United Nations High Commission of Refugees, which is leading the regional emergency response, the commission said.
The majority are living in Lebanon, where one in every five people is a Syrian refugee, and Jordan, which hosts one Syrian refugee to every 13 people. Turkey is the top hosting country for refugees, which took 1.59 million in 2014, and developing regions are accommodating 86 percent of the world’s refugees.
Yet Australia, ranking as the world’s 56th most populated nation at just 23 million, according to the Central Intelligence Agency, and with a considerable wealth at $1.095 trillion GDP (power of parity), is being questioned about whether it could extend a capable hand of compassion.
Internationally revered The New York Times published a damning editorial last week. The report titled “Australia’s brutal treatment of migrants” called out PM Tony Abbott's migrant policy as “inhumane” and “of dubious legality and strikingly at odds with the country’s tradition of welcoming people fleeing persecution and war”.
Australia has received 13,750 migrants through the 2014-2015 financial year, down from 20,000 after the Abbott’s government came into power. Some 4,400 of the humanitarian visas are allocated to people from Syria.
But its resttlement intake ranks highly in comparison to other countries. A 2014 UNHCR report showed that Australia ranked among the top three along with the US and Canada in 2012.
Ms Solonec believes Australia can reach further because the country is accepting many residents from conflict-free countries. People from the United Kingdom, Channel Islands and Isle of Man compose Australia’s largest amount of residents born overseas at approximately 1.2 million as of June 2014, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. This is followed by New Zealand (about nearly 700,000), China (around 450,000) and India (400,000).
The Indigenous perspective and empathy
While Ms Solonec said she had heard some First Nations people were not so welcoming to refugees, discussions she has had with fellow First Peoples of Australia indicated that many were human rights activists.
"We're not racist, you know, we're open to other people with different colours and dark skin like us, so I think we'd be a little bit more open minded about who comes here if we were allowed to talk and be part of the conversation," she said.
Ms Solonec said she believed that her Aboriginal friends who had been sharing pictures through the Internet of the harrowing journeys migrants were embarking upon were actions borne of deep understanding.
"I think it's affecting our people because we’ve dealt with horrible policies that result in us being moved, in us being traumatised, and when we see that happening to other human beings that brings up the same suffering in us," she said.
She said that the empathy of Indigenous Australians towards migrants was stronger still for the understanding that comes with being of mixed descent.
"I think it's affecting our people because we’ve dealt with horrible policies that result in us being moved, in us being traumatised, and when we see that happening to other human beings that brings up the same suffering in us"
"We understand what it means to have cultures come together and meld and have different ancestry in us, so you know, I think that makes us a bit more compassionate and worldly," she said.
Ms Solonec drew attention to those people from Australia’s neighbouring regions, such as Myanmar, in need of safe places to live.
"Australia really needs to take a better role in the Asia Pacific, particularly for Aboriginal people who have lived in the north of Australia, from Western Australia right through to Queensland," she said."We've always had ties and partnerships with Papua New Guinea and Indonesia and Asian countries, they are our brothers and our sisters."
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