The debate over Australia’s immigration policy is heated, and, at times, utterly horrid. The dehumanizing terms in which politicians now speak about asylum seekers, referring to them as “the boats” – as in, “turn back the boats,” as if those boats don’t have real human beings in them – are profoundly upsetting, and echo the way American politicians talk about “illegals.”
A new campaign called Welcome to Australia asks, “if you were seeking asylum, how would you want to be welcomed?” It reminds Australians that with the exception of indigenous Australians, every one of them has been a newcomer at some point, and urges them to welcome asylum seekers the way they would have liked to be welcomed. Journalist and Welcome to Australia spokesperson Jessica Rowe explains why she got involved with the campaign:
As a journalist I have always aimed to be balanced and objective. But there are times when my personal feelings have influenced how I’ve covered a story. I don’t think there’s a problem with that – I believe there are some matters you need to take a stand against. I remember getting into strife with a former boss for being too strident with a particular government minister. During the course of the interview I asked him how he felt about having children behind razor wire in Australia. I still reckon that was a valid question. I was told to back off if we wanted to have that politician on the program again.
However the issue of keeping children in detention is something that I will never back away from. And since having babies of my own I feel even more strongly about how we treat young asylum seekers. So it’s with increasing shame, anger and frustration that I watch as our government wants to send unaccompanied children back to Malaysia to face an uncertain and dangerous future. According to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, deporting unaccompanied children is illegal. It’s hard to comprehend the psychological damage such a journey would have on young refugees.