Asylum seekers are worthy of our compassion, but so are those who condemn them.
By E.F Nicholson
Reading in the Australian press, it appear things are building to a point where the Abbott government appears to be taking their policy towards asylum seekers, just that step further ,beyond the harsh reality it already is. Within the small progressive news outlets, there is appropriate outrage and fight back, to what is seen as a disgraceful policy, getting even more disgraceful. In the Australian Independent Network there was this article titled “You’re a disgrace to the nation”. The author Michael Taylor was referring the recent Sydney Morning Herald opinion poll showing 60% of Australians think refugees should be treated more harshly. Given it’s already quite bad, you would think it’s hard that the majority would actually want it worse, a kind of “stick it to them” or “lay the boot in while their down” type sentiment. The result of this survey really does sadden me more than angers me. Australia is the country I grew up in and spent my formative year. Then at 33 I moved to another island, just a tad bit smaller called Malta, just below Sicily, in the heart of the Mediterranean. Malta has similar problems and issues of African refugees attempting to escape Africa and recently many Syrians, trying to flee a war none of them chose. Even though they are two very different countries, with different issues and complications, with the issue of refuges, you would be hard pressed to find any difference in the polemic nature of the debate .It seems absurd that it could be, give Malta is the size of South Standbroke island, just off Brisbane. Yet it illustrates how none of this debate is based on logic or understanding of our shared humanity. In Malta, like Australia you have “send them home” “be done with them” type camp and then there more compassionate “Come on guys, give them a chance “ camp.
Now for me the debate that has a very personal dimension to it. Myself and my wife adopted two girls four years ago, who ended being rescued from boat that capsize trying to make its way from Africa to Europe. Tragically the biological mother of my children drowned and there was no other family on board, so they were place in an orphanage. We were told of their situation and knew right away it was what we wanted, so we went ahead and made them our kids. Now if fate had turn a different way, or the boat capsized one minute later and the biological mother lived, then both my girls, instead of living a relative white middle class privilege, they Hal Far Malta could have been living in the tent city in Hal Far which is the place in Malta where refuges are sent .It’s a place that has been condemned by European court over a number of cases and it’s easy to see why when you go there. So that could have easily been my girls living there or place just as bad and being subjected to that harsh and uncaring environment. So you might say I feel responsibility or an obligation at least, to support in whatever way I can that all refugees are treated with dignity and respect . Unsurprisingly it is what I feel and how I would to see the situation being approached from both governments. These are real people, who more than likely didn’t want to leave there home but have done so out urgency and suffering, be it economic or persecution .It’s also impossible to try disconnect the relationship between our lavish life style here in the west ,with enormous suffering endured by the third world. Asylum seekers are one aspect of the blowback from our disregard and disconnection to what has to happen, for us to live the way we do. So that said, I relate to the anger and outrage express in the above article, yet I also know it’s very, alluring, easy and somewhat self-righteous position to take. As compassion can’t be something that we selectively choose who is worthy of it and who isn’t. If you are a certain kind of progressive thinker, it’s easy to have compassion for a refuge fleeing a war torn country .Yet when some guy from the Sydney’s western suburbs, who works at Lidl says refuges should be treated more harshly, isn’t he also worthy of our compassion, rather than contempt? Surely it’s obvious that those views are born from ignorance and fear, rather than malice or malevolence. People are easily scared and scaring people makes them easy to control and more susceptible to accepting things they normally would not accept. Those opinions, even though that person think they are his, in fact are the echo of what he has unknowing or unconsciously absorbed and internalise from his environment .I know a few people that see refuges as “Lazy, rape hungry, sponges who should be kicked out of the country”. (of course they quickly make that caveat that’s not about my girls, without seeing, it absolutely is) but none the less, that stock standard shtick is what they believe. The two people I know reasonable well, that feel this way, one is in Australia, one is in Malta are actually good people. They are loving fathers, good friends and caring husbands. Toward my kids, who are black, they make no distinction and are as loving to them as they are to their own. So what I know is it’s very easy to condemn and side with the “suffering” and have angry scorn at the “bigots” but its assumes a very two dimensional view of things .In the same way someone ends up on our shores from a faraway country because of things that have happened to them out of their control, also someone ends up ignorant and possessing racists beliefs, because of what has happened to them. Although I am not a Christian, within the gospels there many profound truths, one of these is Jesus telling his disciples to “Love thy enemy” .I interpret that as being advised to be as caring and compassionate for those who are everything ,you’re not. To love and care for those who you fear and despise. This type of compassion that is harder to foster but it also more powerful when it is. As the basic outrage express in the progressive media is “How could this people be so uncaring and so lacking in empathy and understand” .Well, the best response to this, is to deal with those same people with empathy, understanding and care. The more we embody what we value in life, the greater possibility of it impacting others in a positive way. Everyone is deserving of compassion and those full of hatred, fear and anger, even more so.