Thursday, 8 July 2010

The Refugees World Cup

Talk about treating a vulnerable group as political football... there’s a World Cup on for the real thing. Is that not enough?

The announcement by the new Australian prime minister Julia Gillard that she is going to be “tough” (in politics, a synonym for stupid) on refugees and it’s unfair to call harsh attitudes to refugees “redneck politics” has to be challenged. Harsh attitudes to refugees are almost always based on racism, and are generally not factually based.

One example is the claim that refugees receive more benefits than pensioners. I haven’t seen a detailed version of this claim recently, but it appears to be based on a Canadian email hoax that has been translated to Australian circumstances. The Canadian version was full of errors, and the Australian version is no better. In fact, refugees in Australia do not receive the same entitlement to benefits as permanent residents, and become net contributors to the economy once they have adapted to their new home.

Another claim is that we get a disproportionate number of Islamic refugees, as if Islamic countries are not doing their share. Let’s let the numbers speak for themselves.

There are 2.9-million refugees from Afghanistan alone, and 96% of these are in Pakistan and Iran. There are over 1.7 million refugees in Pakistan, and the top three countries hosting refugees, Pakistan, Iran and Syria, host 3.8-million refugees between them. These numbers don’t include Palestinians, who are accounted for under a different system, totalling 4.8-million. So the total refugees arising out of Middle East and Afghan conflicts add up to nearly 9-million. We are quibbling in Australia over a few thousand. In the graph on the left of the page, I illustrate the scale of Australia’s annual refugee intake (about 13,000 per year currently) against Afghan refugees alone. If I were to compare our annual intake with all refugees worldwide, it would be too small to show on the scale of a graph like this.

What I find particularly ironic is that the people most keen on wars in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are at the forefront of demonising the tiny trickle of the consequential refugees that arrive on our shores. Have you ever wondered why people from these parts of the world hate us?

Back to the main point: is it fair to call these factually inaccurate attacks on refugees redneck politics? Julia Gillard’s claim is that this is an insulting attack on those holding these views. The facts I’ve quoted are very easy to find. Discovering the email hoax took me seconds. Finding the UNHCR’s 2009 Global Trends report, from which I quote statistics showing how tiny a fraction of refugees we see in Australia, was just as easy.

The people indulging in redneck politics are not ordinary people in the street who are misinformed about these issues, though a racist outlook helps them accept convenient myths without checking further. The people who do deserve the label of redneck politics are the people who know better and do nothing to correct the myths.

That means you, Julia.

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