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Asylum seekers are people like us

  • 11 September 2015

It is easy to criticise the government's treatment of refugees and asylum seekers but when a good decision is made it must be acknowledged. The decision to grant 12,000 permanent visas to Syrian refugees and to increase the aid for refugees in the camps to UNHCR are both welcome.

It may not be as many places or as much money as some were calling for, but it is a good announcement and will provide benefits for many refugees, in some cases for the rest of their lives.

It is noteworthy that one photo of young Aylan Kurdi sparked such community support, whereas thousands of words written by advocates and commentators over the years (including this one!) seem to have made less impact.

This support grew very quickly and managed to swamp the views of those who said we should not increase the numbers resettled because of the cost, or because it encourages people and creates a pull factor, or because some refugees will take jobs and be on welfare, or are criminals or terrorists or whatever reason can be dreamed up by those who have probably little if any actual experience of meeting with and listening to refugees.

This decision creates an opportunity for greater community involvement and support for refugees not just here but for those stuck in the limbo or purgatorio and uncertainty of life waiting for resettlement chances. It also is a chance to review how we treat those who come 'across the seas' to our 'boundless plains'.

12,000 refugees may not seem to make a big difference to the millions around the world, but it changes the lives of those resettled, and the lives of those who they meet along the way. Many of us who work with refugees know that our lives and views are different because of this experience. It can be difficult, demanding, disappointing, frustrating and depressing. It can also be challenging, uplifting and maybe most importantly life changing.

There is also the risk for those working with refugees to almost deify the refugee, and take away their humanity by making it seem they (the refugee) are always right, and objectivity and rational consideration is lost. There are those who see themselves as advocates but are so extreme in their arguments, that they target others who are not as extreme as themselves. Their righteousness is like the puritanism of those who are strongly critical of compassionate refugee policies.