When did “asylum seeker” and “refugee” become synonymous with “bad people”?

When something big pops up in the news back home in Australia, I often wake up to a wave of postings on social media from my friends due to the time difference. This morning there was a lot of stuff popping up – especially friends retweeting other news/opinion – about the news of the Australian Navy shooting on a boat of asylum seekers from Indonesia to turn them back. This shocks me to my core, and I just want to get some thoughts out about it.

25 people on that boat (dangerous and unseaworthy) were fleeing for their lives to seek asylum, and the Navy fired shots on them. They were driven back from Australian waters by this, and their boat subsequently washed up on the shores of Java, where local villagers helped to rescue them from the water.  To have such fear to drive you onto a boat carrying more than double the people it should to hopefully reach a safe place, and have that happen? People fleeing violence only to face violence? I’m so ashamed of the actions of the government and the armed forces that lead to such a thing.

More broadly speaking, it shows a worrying trend – especially thanks to government (and sometimes media) spin that these people are bad. They are coming to us with ill-will, to take advantage of us. It takes people who are seeking asylum, who are refugees, and makes them into bad guys, queue jumpers. I understand why borders are protected, I do – it’s legitimate. But I also feel there should be a responsibility as a nation to help people in need as best we can, not shoot at them or put them in what are essentially prisoner camps in remote places, and treat them like garbage. There can be exceptions to the border protection if we care enough about human rights to make it that way.

I have never ever feared for my life because of persecution, I have never been such a victim of violence that the only way out is to flee my home. But I understand the concepts fully, and I feel like the Australian Government could do something to actually help, rather than what they are and have been doing. Of course this is a huge thing and decisions can’t be made overnight, but I’m ashamed that the situation is like this right now. I’m not sure that either major party cares to do anything about it, which is the worst thing. Australia as a lucky country is a fine concept, but to those who really need it, it’s not available.

This refugee mythbusting video from GetUp is what I’d like to end with. I am in no place to be a crusader on this issue, but I feel strongly that many people are being misled on the nature of what these people are going through and what they need. I hope that changes.

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