The language that is used now by governments to describe asylum seekers who arrive on their borders, is a demonstration of why the debate has become so polarised, so emotive, and so intractable.Clearly, he believes that the language chicken comes before the situational egg.
The evolution of Australian government language on asylum seekers has been a tortuous one. In the late 1970s, when the first post-colonial asylum seekers (“boat people”) turned up on Australian shores fleeing conflict in Indochina, the then-immigration minister Michael MacKellar publicly welcomed them, drawing attention to their “harrowing” ordeals in their home country and promising “Australia would offer sanctuary”. He publicly read statements prepared by the asylum seekers, which asked Australia to “please help us for freedom”.Which worked fine. Until the numbers kept coming, and coming, and coming…
As the 70s drew to a close, and as more boats continued to arrive, public unease with the arrivals began to grow louder. Echoing it, government rhetoric began to change.Of course it did. Governments reflect the will of the people who elect them (or at least, that’s what should happen).
Against the backdrop of the success of the Orderly Departure Plan – the multilateral UN-run program which, in 1979, began intercepting boat-borne asylum seekers in their first country of refuge and resettling them all over the world, including Australia – there emerged a sense that for people to turn up on boats was the “wrong” way of arriving. It was improper if not unlawful, a “soft” invasion of a complacent Australia. New boat-borne arrivals began to be dismissed as “queue jumpers” and “economic migrants” .Well, yes. A process was set up intended to be fair and equitable, and yet people chose not to avail themselves of it. So naturally, suspicions arose in the populace. That’s human nature.
It was a crucial semantic shift: the “illegal” construction gave the government the imprimatur, almost the obligation, to enact more punitive policies against asylum seekers.No, simply to reflect the growing unease with those who – seeing a legal gateway – opted instead to do an end run around it. Of course people got wary about the true motives of these migrants. Why wouldn’t they?
By 2013, the language of asylum had become conflated with that of war: the Australian government was “engaged in a war” with those organising boat journeys.Yes, because when you have an ‘enemy’ determined to breach your boundaries and in the process, change your culture and way of life, then you are, de facto, at ‘war’.
The fear that drives the likes of Ben Doherty is the fear that the side he despises is winning:
What exactly is Australia offering? Australia’s avowal to stop the boats is untrue. The boats have not stopped, they are still coming, they are still being stopped: 46 Vietnamese asylum seekers were intercepted at sea last month and secretly returned to Vietnam, some reportedly to detention; undenied allegations the crew of an asylum boat travelling to New Zealand were paid (in US dollars) by Australian officials to turn around; a boat forced back to Indonesia crashing and breaking up on a reef.So as evidence that the policy isn’t working, you offer three examples where migrants didn’t succeed in reaching Australia? You might want to redraft this bit! Maybe after reading a dictionary.
But the UK and Europe appear to be following the Australian lead. Certainly, they are beginning to sound like Australia.Well, good!
By talking tough against asylum seekers – by abusing and dehumanising them, by casting their movement as some amorphous threat rather than a natural and rational human instinct – political leaders are doing nothing to solve the problem, and are only making it worse. Europe is starting to sound like Australia on asylum, the worst thing it could do now is to start acting like it.Well, you would say that, wouldn’t you? Because you can see that it’s working.
And you hate the thought of it working..