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Australia could take many more refugee families

By Peter Bowden - posted Friday, 5 August 2016


This opinion piece is to argue that we could take many more refugees than we do at present . And that Australia and the world would be better off for it. An Australia that will take in any family, anywhere in the world, that has been forced to flee their home. My basic reasons are humanitarian:  19.5 million refugees have been forced to become homeless refugees. More than half of the refugees were children, the United Nations tells us.  It is, at its most fundamental, an argument for a more compassionate Australia. But it is an argument that is much wider.

Beyond my humanitarian reasons is the vision of what Australia was, what it is now, and what it could become. That vision for the future is that Australia, of all nations, could be the first to show the world that people of many creeds and beliefs can live together in peace. Australia has long had the reputation of being an egalitarian society. “I am as good as the next man, Jack” is a statement about Australia that I learned in my childhood. Australia is already a nation of immigrants.  We started off as immigrants, and have grown into a huge multicultural community. One in five households in Australia’s communities speaks a language other than English. In the five mainland state capitals, 34% of people were born overseas. Some suburbs in the major cities have close to 80 % born in other countries.  ABS statistics tell us that in Harris Park in Sydney, for instance, it is 76% born overseas , of whom 43% were born in India. This is an incredible, almost unbelievable, statistic

By 2007, some 6.5 million people had migrated to Australia since the end of WWII. That is about a quarter of the country.The largest percentage were initially  English speaking, but Greece, Yugoslavia, Italy, Vietnam, Netherlands, Hong Kong and the Philippines are now in the top 10 countries. Australia already tops the world’s list with the highest percentage of foreign born people.

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 The world has been at war since time immemorial. One deep underlying reason is that we divide the world into ‘them and us’. If Australia were to open its doors, it could show the world that we people of all colours, all nations, all religions, are all “us”. We have our differences, as the recent election has shown us. We have our Pauline Hansons and our extreme right wing politicians, but we manage those differences relatively peacefully. Not as well as we would wish, but still far better than the conflict that we see in other parts of the world. Pauline Hanson is not a Nigel Farage or a Donald Trump.

There is yet another reason for this starting a campaign to make our immigration program more humane. It is one we see nightly on our television screens. The unbelievable destruction of the cities in Syria has resulted in over a quarter of a million Syrians having been killed, and over one million injured. 4.8 million Syrians have been forced to leave the country, and 6.5 million are internally displaced.

There are yet further reasons for changing Australia’s policies. We signed international agreements - - The international Convention on the Rights of the Child. That people could move from country to country. Breaking these commitments is immoral     The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which Australia has signed, says “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” and that “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality”.  To break our international commitments is not an Australia that I admire. 

For many Australians, the most powerful argument is that other countries are doing so much more than we are.  Greece, population 11.03 million, has a refugee intake of  68,000, or one in 150 Australia, with 23 million, the Syrian refugee intake is about one in 2000. Germany, population 82 million, has accepted 2 million Syrians since the start of the Syrian crisis. Despite the threat from the political right Angela Merkel has refused to compromise on Germany’s massive migrant intake.  Italy (population 60 million) has been almost as accepting   January 1 to July 1 2016, around 70,930 migrants arrived in Italy.  In an effort to reduce the risks linked to such journeys, in October 2013 the Italian Government launched the Mare Nostrum operation, which has rescued more than 100,000 people. Italy provides free board and lodging in welcome centres plus mobile phones, €3 a day in pocket money, and lessons in driving a car and Italian. They are free to come and go, though not to work. Every country mentioned above is, in terms of GDP per capita, a less well-endowed country than Australia.

There are 600,000 Syrian refugees in Jordanian refugee camps for instance. Housing them is not a problem. We could renovate the old migrant centres; the churches have already opened their doors; individual Australians would help through an expanded Enough Room program. We could accept every displaced family who could get themselves and their children to Australia. After a security and health check and some induction into Australian values they would be free to go.

The argument is to accept families, not single men.  Single men are the main recruiting pool for Jihadists .Read ISIS and the Real Reason Why Young Muslim Men Join the Jihad. It has been single men behind virtually every terrorist attack.  The same worrying statistic applies  to mass shootings in the United States. There have been 81 in total. And of these, a huge 79 involved a male shooter. If single males tried illegally; they would be stopped as at present, but rather than being sent the concentration camps we now administer, would be returned to their last port of embarkation.  Some might be inclined to find a wife, start a family, and try again. But it is far safer for the world for them to rid themselves of their extra testosterone this way.

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But possibly the greatest objection to opening our borders is that we will not have enough jobs. Further research will find out whether the jobs problem needs a top limit on the number that we take . But if so, my top limit is 200, 000 per year – the same acceptance rate as Germany in the first six months of this year (compared with 1.1 million last year). Treasury's budgeted growth in employment forecasts is, in any case, 200,000 jobs to be created in 2016-17.Germany also  has a lower GDP per capita income than Australia –$46,900 to $47,400. I for one would not object to paying a little of that extra wealth to help Australia show the world what can be done. If you agree, sign the petition to all political parties and all Australians.

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About the Author

Peter Bowden is an author, researcher and ethicist. He was formerly Coordinator of the MBA Program at Monash University and Professor of Administrative Studies at Manchester University. He is currently a member of the Australian Business Ethics Network , working on business, institutional, and personal ethics.

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