It has been revealed today that the federal government will be placing a higher priority on migrants from South America amid a humanitarian crisis in Venezuela. The situation in Venezuela is deteriorating rapidly with an estimated 3 million civilians feeling civil unrest under socialist president Nicolas Maduro. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees labelled the crisis, “the largest exodus in the recent history of Latin America.”
Currently, there is a no target or concrete number of refugees which Australia will take in from South America; however, it is progress. There have been small achievements in recent years in the protection of refugees such as Mr Turnbull’s plan to increase the humanitarian intake from 13,750 to 18,750 in September 2016 and Mr Abbott one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees in 2015. Yes, progress is occurring, but not at the speed or rate required to provide real change in areas in our world that are suffering. This is due to two key reasons:
One major issue is the lack of understanding regarding what a ‘refugee’ is. The common perception that refugees just want to ‘come to your country to take your jobs and money’ has been devastating on the possible increase in the intake of refugees due to clear negative public opinion. A refugee is someone fleeing their home due to persecution. I can’t make that any clearer. No refugee gets onto a wooden, old, overcrowded boat or walks across a warzone with the thought of taking your jobs in their mind. Understanding of refugees needs to be spread and understood because the current perception within society is highly detrimental.
Furthermore, the media attention on refugees in Australia has been excessive. In 2012, the negative press coverage on refugees significantly increased unsavoury sentiments towards this group of people, amplified through the vilification of Sudanese refugees recently in Melbourne.
Recent criminal incidents in Melbourne involving young people of African heritage have enabled the media and politicians to capitalise on the opportunity to demonise those of African descent in Australia. Every news headline ceases to fail in including the capitalised, bold words, “SUDANESE REFUGEES”, significantly altering public opinion through the associated of violent crimes with refugees. Many people argue that Sudanese immigrants are over-represented in crime statistics in Melbourne; however, only 1% of alleged criminal offenders in Victoria in 2017 were Sudanese-born. Moreover, surrounding factors must be considered, such as the younger average age of the Sudanese community, increased poverty and lack of engagement in work and school, all factors that are associated with high crime rates. Therefore, the claim of over-representation is a misconception and dangerous. Although the media may trick you in believing crime is increasing in Melbourne due to “Sudanese gangs” and “refugees”, the overall crime rate in Victoria fell in 2017.
Media attention in Australia has been intentional in vilifying refugees, misrepresenting information and depicting refugees as inherently evil. This has been a significant hindrance in the possibility of a further increase in the intake of refugees by Australia because the democratic government relies on public support. The media needs to tread with caution when reporting on refugees because currently, they are doing nothing but stop Australia’s progress.
Increased Intake Required
Australia’s humanitarian intake of 18,750 people and the one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees may seem positive, and yes, it is a start, but it is a long way behind the rest of the world. The top refugee host countries in the world include:
Turkey: Intake of 3.5 million refugees
Pakistan: Intake of 1.4 million refugees
Jordan: Intake of 2.9 million refugees
Uganda: Intake of 1.4 million refugees.
Now, how does Australia’s controversial intake of 18,000 people look? Australia must do more. A common theme across all the four countries listed above is the lack of space, political and social security and resources to provide to all the refugees in their country. Australia has all these things. The other common phrase circulating the media is “we don’t have enough room.” This is highly incorrect. We have room, and we have resources, if Uganda, a country suffering through instability and poverty can intake 1.4 million refugees, Australia can start to get serious about stepping up and increasing its intake.
The issue only gets worse when the countries suffering politically and socially take in refugees, the problem exacerbates, and the problems are not solved. Australia needs to increase its intake of refugees, for further progress to be achieved.
An option which hasn’t been discussed thoroughly is the increase of foreign aid. If Australia doesn’t want to accept refugees into the country, that is fine, but they must be helping to solve the issues in the country which the refugees are fleeing from. Collaboration with NGO’s and increase funding is vital to achieving practical solutions on the ground, which can reap benefits and decrease the number of people fleeing under the status of a ‘refugee’.
When will Australia get real about refugees? Well, the time is now. Media attention is creating a blockade in changing public opinion on refugees, which needs to be reversed through accurate representation. Moreover, Australia needs to increase its intake and relieve the toll on third-world countries overflowed with refugees in their country.
If I could come up with a motto for a refugee campaign in Australia, this would be it:
‘Refugees have no choice. You do.’
Please like, comment and most importantly share this post. We must work together to create change and let people in power hear our voice.