Refugees in Australia: A crisis that goes beyond numbers

MELBOURNE, Australia —  Australia is under pressure with what has been quoted by many as the worst global refugee crisis ever since World War II. According to a report released by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the number of refugees, asylum seekers, and internally displaced people worldwide has, for the first time in the post-World War II era, exceeded 50 million people.

With the huge amount of worldwide refugees in search for a safe haven, many people have targeted Australia, as it is a prosperous and diverse country.

Since 1976, when the first boat carrying five people arrived in Australia after the Vietnam War, the numbers of asylum seekers who have attempted to reach the borders of Australia have increased dramatically.

Refugees sailing towards a better life. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Trenorden

Refugees sailing towards a better life. PHOTO CREDIT: Mark Trenorden

In 2013, it was recorded that 403 boats carrying over 25,000 people reached the shores of Australia. And people who travel by boat to reach Australia do not just set off from neighboring countries. In an interview on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), Abdullah Ahmed Muhammad from Eritrea spoke about his experience of attempting to reach the shores of the Oceanian country via boat.

Abdullah, like many others, travelled great distances to reach Indonesia, which is seen by many as the gateway to Australia. Abdullah spoke about why he made the decision to come to Australia. “Before I want to go… from Djibouti to Ethiopia, from Ethiopia to Sudan, to go to Italy, when I see 365 people was dead in July, from Libya to Italia, I become afraid,” he said. “I prefer to take from Indonesia to Australia because it is too much risk [to go to Italy].”

The risk however is still high for those seeking refugee in Australia via boat. People smugglers charge large fees for travelers and pack people on unsafe boats. In the last fifteen years it has been recorded that 1,970 people have died in attempt to reach Australia by sea.

Australians have been very open to refugees in the past, and the nation as a whole has become an extremely diverse place. But with the increasing number of refugees seeking resettlement worldwide, any dream to become an open-door country is off the table due to its unsustainability.

With the rising number of legitimate refugees, the public opinion of boat people is decreasing, as many Australians believe that boat people are not real refugees and are buying their way into the country.

In 2014, the Australian government spent almost $23 million in one year on elaborate advertising campaigns to stop refuges entering by boat without a visa from seeking protection in Australia. This cost is only a small portion of the money spent on refugees and visa processing.

Weather the boat arrivals are legitimate on not, Australia’s current method of dealing with the flood of refugees has been less than perfect.

Between the mix of detention centers and the most current government scandals, Australia’s methods have proved to be unsuccessful. The more concerning problem is that more viable and humanitarian solutions haven’t been found.

What people have failed to see are the potential opportunities that the refugees bring to the nation, which could channel the situation to turn it into something of great help.

For example, in exchange for better living conditions, food and shelter, Australia could ask refugees for volunteer work.

Many past refugees have come to Australia from humble beginnings and have established themselves to become significant members of the community.

The BRW Rich 200 list contains many former immigrants who have significantly contributed to the country’s wealth. Names such as Lowy, Pratt, Gandel, Hui, Alter and Chau were all featured on previous years’ lists of billionaires.

This potential for growth is only given when the opportunity to grow is presented. Everyone deserves the opportunity to prove him or herself, but detention camps and redirecting boats doesn’t achieve anything.

Finding work programs that allow displaced people to work off their ticket to Australia and prove their desire to start fresh seems vital to fixing the Australian refugee crisis. And if they are true refugees, their desire for a new beginning will overshadow their desire for wealth. This method will be beneficial for both the nation and the refugees.

cartoon credit: Simon Kneebone/Probonoaustralia website, 2014