Boat People

Posted on June 4th, 2008 by Cam.
Categories: Let's talk.

I have a big problem with boat people. They set off on their overcrowded boats, expecting to find refuge and possibly a prosperous new start. They bring their own diseases, beliefs, expectations, weapons and culture and almost force it on the people who rightfully belong to Australia. Often, violence has erupted because they just don’t understand how things operate here, so instead of trying to find out, they will resolve the situation barbarically. The boat people seem to develop their own governance structures in their ‘new land’ and it involves stripping the land’s patriots of their status as human beings, often treating them worse than dogs. Like I say, I have a big problem with boat people.

But that’s enough about British settlers of the 1700’s, who came out on their boats and largely destroyed a significant part of Aboriginal customs, freedom and safety.

The term “Boat People” in Australia today usually refers to people who cram onto unsafe boats as they escape from atrocities in their own countries, seeking any form of safety they can. I have a high regard for these ‘boat people’. To me, they demonstrate many noble aspects of human character that we would rarely be exposed to had they not landed on our shores and become ‘our problem’.

We have it good here in Australia. We have great infrastructure, healthcare, economy and welfare. Often, this is all taken for granted. But I know that some people would have the expectation that other countries should get their act together and develop a similar society. They see ‘boat people’ as second-class citizens who want a free ride at our expense. Now there is a mentality that is worthy of being a problem.

People are often changed when they experience or are educated to the reality that we often term ‘the third world’. I cannot forget sights, smells and the way of life I experienced in my time travelling and it gave me an inkling into the seemingly hopeless situation these people are in. Tyrannical governments, constant exposure to disease, lack of education, lack of healthcare and dangerous living conditions are often the norm for the majority of the world’s inhabitants. It is disastrous that most of us don’t bother actively helping other humans in this situation, but even when these people make it easy for us by arriving on our doorstep, some people can’t wait to see the back of them.

To me, I can’t imagine the risk, trauma and fear involved in deciding to put my family on a boat in order that their lives may be saved. They are human, like us. They love their families and friends, like we do. They feel the pain of having to tear their lives apart to start again. I picture a father, making the painful decision to board a boat with his family, or sometimes seeing them off. They risk being caught by their government, our government and every force of nature in between. For every boat that actually makes it to our shores, we have no idea of how many boats don’t make it. What an incredible act of love. What an incredible demonstration of hope.

These people are doing everything humanly possible to turn their hopeless situation into one where hope exists, and they are willing to risk everything they have in order to pursue it. In our society, I don’t think we understand the full power of hope because we very rarely need to employ it. Even when we do, our hopes are generally based on things we want, rather than things that will give us life.

So when I see the emaciated faces of the fathers, mothers and children arriving on these boats on the news, I see the personification of love, hope and fear. I don’t think I will ever stop being angry when I hear attitudes from some people who consider themselves ‘legitimate Australians’ when they damn other humans to an existence of hopelessness. In support of their ‘legitimacy’ some will proudly claim that they have heritage tracing back to the First Fleet. Congratulations, I say to them; you are the original boat people.

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4 comments.

sojourner

Comment on June 5th, 2008.

My hope for the future is that all people would look upon each other as having world citizenship – all having the same rights and freedoms no matter what part of the world we live in.

emma

Comment on June 12th, 2008.

flippin brlilliant – run for pm would ya

Katie

Comment on June 13th, 2008.

I just love these people who make it over. Aren’t they awesome. My good friend arrived on a boat from Vietnam as a baby, and now he works for Deloitte. Amazing what his parents did for him and his brother. Yep, what a sacrifice. He came with his mum first, he dad could not follow for years.

But Sojourner I have reservations re your enthusiasm. I love the idea of world citizenship too, but we as a people have to commit to making it work. And I think work is the key word. It ain’t easy.

We just left London. There is a country who have opened their doors to immigrants. They have been so generous. Aus doesn’t even feature on the world list of immigrants taken in (yes, I’ve seen the list) cos our no. is so small. England has hundreds of thousands (along with France & Holland btw).

And it is a mess. In the last 2 or 3 years especially, it went really downhill there. Crime, stress on govt systems esp medical, racial segregation. The English are emmigrating – I mean literally.

I think the South Africans might also have something to say about the idea of world citizenship at the moment!

Yes we absolutely must roll up our sleeves for others and open our doors. But we have to think about how.

Before leaving London I was looking into a program which worked one-to-one with refugees and immigrants. The idea is to introduce them to the structures of their new country gradually…so that they can learn language, get work, get bank accounts, get an address etc. I am sure that there is similiar stuff here. I’ll be having a look.

I think if we want to open our doors – and we so should – at the same time we need to agree to the work that involves. And do it!

Cam

Comment on June 13th, 2008.

Kt, I agree that there are a number of problems associated with the mixture of cultures and the responsibility of a ‘host’ country. I remember being out for dinner with a group of people. When the topic came up about refugees, fueled with numerous glasses of wine, he made quite a spectacle as he spat the dummy and stormed out of the restaurant with anger toward any ‘refugee’. Quite a scene.

It definitely has to be an active response. The responsibility does not just involve ‘letting’ people find refuge. It involves effort and forward planning to make the transitions work. Something that works better than detention centers.

It is like community. People generally love the word community and throw the word around pretty willy-nilly. But often, ‘community’ sucks. It is hard work, people get hurt, we have their way of life challenged or scrutinised and end up wishing everyone was the same to avoid this clash of cultures. But it can be incredibly fulfilling also, and an important part of our relational existence.

It will be interesting to see our new Government’s response to this issue.

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