Posted by: jkirkby8712 | April 10, 2011

Sunday, 10th April 2011 – the problems with refugees

I saw a report recently that noted that 96% of Afghan asylum seekers who had their claims finalised in 2010 were found to be genuine refugees. Between October 2008 and 22 December 2010, 94% of all asylum seekers that arrived by boat were found to be refugees. Interestingly by comparison to that more maligned  group of refugees, it was noted that only 39% of asylum seekers who arrived by plane [or 909 asylum seekers out of 2,321] in the second half of 2010 were found to be refugees. It is this second who tend to be regarded by the broad community, as the only legitimate ‘refugees’ –  that evidence, at least, would tend to suggest otherwise! I am always maintained that the people who find themselves in the position of having to use ‘people smugglers’ and travel in dangerous and unseaworthy boats in the hope of finding a better and more secure life for their families are more likely to be the refugee in genuine need of protection and assistance.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that a short while ago, there were still up to 1,000 asylum seeker children being held in Australian detention centres, they are slowly being released into the community. Between October 2010 and March 2011, 268 asylum seekers were released into the community, including almost all of the male unaccompanied children under 15 years of age, and all but one girl in that category. I guess that suggests that most of those remaining are part of a family group – so while it is still completely unsatisfactory for these innocent children to be retained under jail like conditions, they do hopefully have some support from family to some degree, though how satisfactory that is, represents another consideration! Disturbingly however, survey polling has revealed that 53% ‘disapprove’ of the Federal Government’s decision to move asylum seeker children and families out of  detention – only 33% approved, indicative I think of continued ignorance and biased attitudes based on the spread of fear and prejudice by some individuals, and groups,  from minority sectors of the Australian community. There has also been the concern that such relocations will be into the  already overcrowded public housing environment, though the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship has denied that, saying that housing for  asylum seekers will be sourced through faith-based, not-for-profit and welfare agencies. The Uniting Church for example, has a number of programs in this area, and finally it seems, our governments are acknowledging the value of those community contributions.

Continuing with the refugee situation, I also note that the Minister has introduced to Parliament, on the 24th February,  a Bill to provide for a system of complementary protection for those seeking asylum in Australia. The aim of this Bill is to eliminate unnecessary processes for people at risk of torture, inhumane treatment or likely death to receive a protection visa in accordance with Australia’s existing international obligations. Currently, people seeking protection in Australia from these situations but only at the discretion of the Minister, and then often at the last stage of the review process. The Minister himself [Hon Chris Bowen] has stated  – “This is about helping vulnerable people – people at risk of the most serious forms of harm, if returned to their home country. Our international treaty obligations mean we cannot and do not send these people home. But, under existing processes, they are only able to get a visa through the personal intervention of the Minister. This is extremely inefficient, time- consuming and stressful, as applicants must apply, be rejected, seek review, be rejected again and then seek the personal  – and entirely discretionary – intervention of the Minister. While Ministers have historically agreed to grant these visas, this is no way for the system to operate”  Such interventions did not always work – in 2009, there was a public outcry when the Minister for Immigration  refused to intervene in moves to remove Grace Gichugi [aged 22] and Ndikaru Muturi [aged 21] back to Kenya where they faced the risk of female genital mutilation. The proposed Complimentary  protection system aims to cover such situations. The Uniting Church is currently establishing a Petition to Federal Parliament, in which they are asking Members of Parliament to agree to pass the Bill. As the wording states –  ‘Australia is currently one of the only developed countries which does not have a Complimentary Protection  process in place for those who arrive in Australia in need of protection and who fall outside the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee criteria [and this ] includes girls and women facing honour killings and female genital mutilation’.

Not sure how I got onto this subject – except that the whole refugee issue has always been a prime concern of mine, as I have previously indicated.  I have actually continued the theme with a bit of a ‘postscript’ to this blog, a summary of Refugee Week, as provided by my Uniting Church contacts.

In the meantime,  I probably wasn’t however, thinking of refugees, when I was playing Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto during this morning’s radio program. An interesting comparison was revealed between Liszt, and that other great composer of piano music, Frederic Chopin. Australian pianist, Leslie Howard, has just completed the recording of all of Liszt’s solo piano music – all 99 CDs of it. In an interview which appeared in ‘Limelight’ magazine this month, he was asked ‘So what do you think Liszt’s legacy is?’ Howard responded that “He simply expanded what the piano could do, more than anybody else in the 19th century, I’m sure he always thought of orchestral instruments when he was writing for the piano, which is exactly the opposite of how Chopin thought.” Certainly, that was true of this morning’s playing, where the orchestra concerned was mentioned, but no specific reference to the pianist in question.

Young Jodie called me [from work where she was on duty again this morning, at a Leisure & Recreation centre over in the western suburbs] with the news that Shirley would not be released from hospital today, she  was recovering from a minor operational procedure this morning and was likely to be kept in for another night.


Addition to discussion on refugees:

Refugee Week is Australia’s peak annual activity to inform the public about refugees and celebrate positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society. The event has been celebrated in Australia since 1986 and RCOA has been responsible for the coordination of Refugee Week in NSW since 2005.

Refugee Week provides a platform where positive images of refugees can be promoted in order to create a culture of welcome throughout the country.  The ultimate aim of the celebration is to create better understanding between different communities and to encourage successful integration enabling refugees to live in safety and to continue making a valuable contribution to Australia.

Over the past 15 years, Refugee Week celebrations have developed in a number of other countries.  While there are minor differences in the dates for Refugee Week, all include World Refugee Day (June 20).  In Australia, Refugee Week is scheduled to ensure that it does not clash with public holidays in any Australian state or territory.

The aims of Refugee Week are:

  • to educate the Australian public about who refugees are and why they have come to Australia;
  • to help people understand the many challenges refugees face coming to Australia;
  • to celebrate the contribution refugees make to our community;
  • to focus on how the community can provide a safe and welcoming environment for refugees;
  • for community groups and individuals to do something positive for refugees, asylum seekers and displaced people, within Australia but also around the world;
  • for service providers to reflect on whether they are providing the best possible services to refugees.

Refugee Week is a unique opportunity for us all to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities through theatre, music, dance, film and other events which take place all over Australia and highlight the aims of the Week, as outlined above. Refugee Week is an umbrella participatory festival that allows a wide range of refugee community organisations, voluntary and statutory organisations, schools, student groups and faith based organisations to host events during the week.

Past events have included football tournaments, public talks and exhibitions as well as music and dance festivals, theatre projects, and film screenings. Everyone is welcome to participate in promoting the aims of Refugee Week – the more the merrier!

Through Refugee Week we aim to provide an important opportunity for asylum seekers and refugees to be seen, listened to and valued.


The 2010 theme: Freedom from Fear

After careful consideration of options for themes for Refugee Week in Australia, RCOA has chosen to retain the 2009 Refugee Week theme in the lead-up to next year’s 60th anniversary of the UN Refugee Convention. This means that the theme for Refugee Week in 2010 and 2011 will be “Freedom from Fear”. Our hope is that, by retaining this theme for Refugee Week over three years, we will be able to focus greater attention on the realities of the refugee experience.

The quest for freedom from fear is at the heart of a refugee’s flight from danger. This is acknowledged in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), which defines a refugee as:

Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

The importance of freedom from fear is also affirmed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the preamble of which describes the “the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want” as the “highest aspiration of the common people.”

When refugees flee, they are forced to abandon everything they know and love. They are separated from family members, lose belongings, are left with little or no money. Some are traumatised by what they have experienced. Many spend years in camps, lost in no-man’s land whilst their fate is decided. Most have no idea what kind of future awaits them.

In seeking refuge in another country refugees are hoping to find freedom from that fear. They are looking for the opportunity to lead a normal life, as part of a community, where they can live in safety and security, find work and send their children to school.

In choosing our theme as “Freedom from Fear” we are hoping to draw attention not just to the fear that compels refugees to run, but the relief they feel when they are welcomed into another country and given the opportunity to rebuild their lives.

Why does Refugee Week have a theme?

The Refugee Week theme has a number of important functions:

  • It raises awareness of the issues affecting refugees. The theme aims to highlight aspects of the refugee experience and help the broader community to understand what it is like to be a refugee.
  • It helps to make Refugee Week a national celebration. The theme provides a focal point for events across Australia, uniting separate activities into a single nationwide celebration.
  • It promotes a message of harmony and togetherness. The theme unites individuals, communities and organisations from many different backgrounds behind a common cause. The common theme is a reminder that, regardless of our differences, we all share a common humanity.
  • It broadens the impact of Refugee Week. The theme provides a common, cohesive message which can be promoted across the country. Focusing celebrations on this key message helps to extend its influence.

 So there you have it – a few views and actions on Australia’s ongoing refugee situation, though most of those views admittedly coming from those who ‘care’. It’s now 5.40 pm, and already the  day outside is starting to dwindle. We haven’t had as much rain as anticipated., most of that came overnight, although it did rain quite heavily for a period whilst I was driving back over to the hospital. Susan has  been on the highway to Bendigo for an hour now, and I guess I won’t really relax until I can assume she has reached her little destination. I’d not intended to drive over to the hospital today, unless Susie wanted to see her mother again before she returned up north. James was driving the two ladies there again this afternoon, until he discovered that there was a problem with his car. That was when I became [by choice] the official driver, and drove Win, Val & James back over to Sunshine hospital to see Shirley, who thankfully was much brighter and happier today. If Susie had decided to come, we would have made room for her. She had spent the morning at a girlfriend’s place around the corner, and came back from there more cheerful then she had been all week. That was good to see.


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