OPINION: If 1915 Syria had Australia's current refugee policy, there would be no Armenians today

By Haig Kayserian | Thursday, 08 December 2016

by Haig Kayserian - armenia.com.au

If 1915 Syria had Australia's current refugee policy, there would be no Armenians today. There would be no Armenia today.

For those reading from outside Australia, this is the only country in the world with a policy of mandatory detention and offshore processing of "asylum seekers" (a phrase used to dehumanise refugees). Further, if you are an undocumented refugee (as I refuse to use euphemisms for people who risk their lives to come to Australia) and arrive by "skipping the line", you are sent to an offshore detention facility never to be processed for entry into Australia.

In Australia, most of these refugees arrive by boat. Before they arrive on Australian shores, their boats are turned back by the military and sent to nations (Nauru, Malaysia, etc.) that themselves have poor human rights records. After confirmation of their refugee status, they may earn a stay in that country or earn a ticket to a country that Australia has an agreement with.

The refugee debate has really become a race to the bottom, with the current proposal being that such arrivals will never be able to set foot on Australian soil, even as tourists after earning refuge elsewhere, unless the minister (one person) in charge allows!

The Australian government and opposition (our two major parties) agree on this policy. Their public justification is that accepting such refugees for onshore processing in Australia:
  1. will risk their lives, as the boats they board to come to Australia are leaky and creaky, and some have died on the way;
  2. will promote the "people smuggling" trade, as this xenophobic Australian policy has stopped refugees paying money to the operators of said boats since they no longer herald hope for settlement in Australia;
  3. is unfair, as there are many thousands of people who are waiting patiently in line to be granted entry into Australia, through proper means.

Australia's reasons to reject refugees unite to form curtains hiding the rays of racism from entering into the public debate.

  1. People who get on these boats are well aware the risk is death. But they do it anyway, as they have more hope for survival on that boat than from where they are fleeing.
  2. The "people smuggling" trade is illegal. And Australia, or any Western democracy interested in disrupting illegal trades, sounds noble. But it is inconsistent. Australia accepts purchases of Australian bonds from war-mongering petro-dictatorships like Azerbaijan. Australia is in alliances which arms militant forces in the Middle East. If policing the world is Australia's duty, why not break up all illegal trades?
  3. And those waiting "patiently" to get into Australia are waiting in countries that are not hostile to them. For example, Australia does not accept Syrian refugees directly from Syria, rather those with U.N. numbers in "safe zones" throughout the Middle East. Moreover, for a country with land mass comparable to the United States (which has a population of 300 million), Australia has plenty of room to accept the "patient" and the "impatient", with a population of only 23 million.

Links between terrorism and refugee arrivals are very weak at best. However, it would be irresponsible to suggest Australia should not properly and thoroughly assess the credibility of all arrivals. That is not the issue with this policy. Valid questions to ask are:
  1. Why not process these refugees to determine their validity onshore in Australia, rather than offshore?
  2. Why not help the boats get in by offering our judicial principles of "innocent until proven guilty" to these refugees?
  3. Why not offer a pathway to the Australian dream for those who are deemed as credible refugees rather than blocking them out forever?

There is one answer to these questions. Racism.

Politicians and political parties in the West, including Australia, are driven by polls and focus groups. It is deemed by the polls in Australia, that if you are not the toughest against the arrival of foreigners, you lose elections.

This has been proven time and again, with the "turn back the boats" or "stop the boats" rhetoric helping both John Howard and Tony Abbott to election victories for the right-wing Coalition of Liberals and Nationals. This has forced the Coalition's left-wing, Labor opponents to adopt these same inhumane policies themselves, in an attempt to win votes.

Therefore, the polled people of Australia are leading refugees on leaky boats into countries not much different to those they are fleeing.

Politicians in Australia are choosing not to lead us towards righteousness on this issue. Rather they are choosing to follow the worst among us. But at what cost?

As an Armenian-Australian, people of my origin fled the Ottoman Empire while 1.5 million of their compatriots were being slaughtered during the Armenian Genocide. Most of the few who survived ended up in Syria, after an impossible journey of rape and torture along the dessert of Deir ez-Zor.

If 1915 Syria had adopted 2016 Australia's refugee policy, and therefore did not accept these undocumented Armenian "asylum seekers", I would not be alive today. There would be no Armenians today. There would be no Armenia today.

Seriously Australia, our anthem chimes "...For those who've come across the seas, We've boundless plains to share...". This is just not good enough!