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Australia's siege mentality viewed from Greece

  • 04 June 2014

I left Australia decades ago. Migration was not my idea, but I had it easy, practically speaking, in the Peloponnese: I was not fleeing for my life, I had a family and a house to go to, and there were no threats of death, rape, or imprisonment. Nor were there threats of starvation or poverty. I was the wife of a Greek, and so my rights were acknowledged and my papers in order. I got a job, and my children were always with me.

But still, it was hard, so hard that to this day, putting dreamers and pleasure-seekers aside, I cannot understand the whole process of migration. Still less can I understand official attitudes towards it, for it seems to me that very few people leave their homes and their home countries unless circumstances drive them to it. Circumstances involving desperation, like the Irish potato famine, the Highland Clearances, and the failure of tin in Cornwall that had such an influence on 19th century patterns of migration to Australia.

As I write, the Euro elections have been over for a week, and the results are still being digested and debated. During the campaigns and the counting, it became evident quite early that immigration was the issue, even more of an issue than the state of the economy in the various harried nations of Europe.

And worry about immigration seems to be the main contributing factor to the continuing rise of the right-wing parties across the Continent. Here in Greece, for example, the neo-Nazi and racist Golden Dawn polled a disturbing 9 per cent, and has won seats in the European Parliament for the first time.

And what of Australia? Quite frankly, I'm baffled, so baffled that visiting Antipodeans take me to task. 'Get over it, Gillian. The Australia you grew up in and thought you knew has gone forever.'

So it would seem. But it also seems to me that it was a more tolerant country way back then. My parents had friends who were known as DPs, Displaced Persons, and when I started high school Hungarian children were starting to arrive, so that I was repeating the experience my father had had in the 1930s, when Jewish students were enrolling at his school. And there was no fuss.

But I'm not alone in my bemusement. Last week a friend of mine, herself an immigrant, wrote a stinging letter to ALP Senators. She pointed out