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Asylum a problem? No fear mate.

By Robert Battisti - posted Thursday, 25 July 2013

We live in fear for our safety and way of life, but where do these ideas come from.

With all the rhetoric and political maneuvering around the asylum seeker issue in a race to the election finish line, what keeps being left out of the picture are the actual people it affects.

Take a moment to consider this:


Imagine a situation where you and your family constantly live with a fear of injury or death. You personally know people that have been killed and it is too dangerous for your children to go to school, assuming there is one to go to. What would you do?

You try to go about your lives, but nothing gets better; if anything it gets worse. It feels like there is no prospect for a better life. What happens if something happens to you? Who will look after your family? What would you do? How far would you go?

Here in Australia we believe that every human being has the right to safety, that this is a given and must be assured. We demand that our parliament keeps us safe.

The political debate is tapping into our fear for our own safety by the veiled "threat" posed by asylum seekers. We are being told that they will take our jobs, drain our economy, destroy our way of life. One facebook users noted on this issue, "Do you keep your doors open/unlocked and allow people you don't know push their way in to your home, because you have what they WANT????". Of course you wouldn't. But wait a minute, is that what is actually happening? Even with the current peak of asylum seekers being up to 25,000 (which it has not been remotely close to in previous years), this is 0.1% of an Australian population of over 22 million. In other words, about 900 Australians for every asylum seeker. The chance of them all, or even two at once, crowding into someone's home appears unlikely.

The problem is that a fear response provokes extremes in behaviour. We have been encouraged to become afraid for our safety as it galvanises us to think (and vote) collectively and we will automatically gravitate to whichever political party best reduces that fear. We believe that we shouldn't have to have this fear and that we should be protected. But what if the reality isn't as bad as what we are fearing? What if there is nothing to fear at all?

Asylum seekers are running from REAL fear, in other words, tangible evidence of actual safety concerns. We know this is true as over 90% of them are found to have valid claims and subsequently become classed as refugees. Nothing motivates a person like fear for their safety or that of those that they love. Our politicians are tapping into that primal aspect of ourselves that is not rational but instead powerfully emotional in order to win votes.

We have the ability to rise above that. It is time for us to look at the bigger picture and consider how we can bring about meaningful change. The asylum seeker and refugee difficulties are not going to go away any time soon as the world is not a peaceful place. And yes we can't just let all of the estimated 15 million refugees in the world in to our country all at once as our economy wouldn't cope. But is that what is actually happening? That's what we are being made to fear. How likely is that? Interestingly, with the Australian asylum seeker budget of $2.9 billion this would pay for 224,000 people on Newstart allowance. Actual asylum seeker numbers are about one tenth of that. This suggests that there may be more creative ways to deal with this issue. This isn't to suggest that we should put all asylum seekers on the dole, but what it does indicate is that, if we had to, there is enough money there to look after them all (and then some) without impacting upon our economy. And this doesn't even take into consideration the high likelihood that they will want to work and not be a drain on the economy.


Fear-based politics aim to stop us from using rational thought. When you make an automatic judgement about something, just pause. Ask yourself, "using what information am I basing my opinion on?" Just because everyone is allowed to have an opinion does not mean that we have a right to impose it upon others, particularly people as vulnerable as are refugees. Maybe it is simply because you were just told to think that way? Maybe you might say that politicians know what they are telling us, that they are educated and informed. Do you really believe that though? How often do they follow through on what they say?

We grow up being told to trust our gut. But what if our gut feeling is wrong? What if what it says hurts others whom are already suffering? Gut feelings come from our emotions. Now acting on what our gut tells us can be fine as long as we don't let our emotions get the better of us. But what about when we are encouraged to fear something that we might never actually experience in our lives; such as interacting with refugees for instance? When are we going to rely upon our own minds to come to a conclusion about something rather than trusting it to individuals that have an election agenda.

Maybe it's time we thought for ourselves.

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About the Author

Dr Robert Battisti is a Sydney-based clinical psychologist and cognitive neuroscientist. He is extensively experienced in family, child and adolescent mental health and psychiatry, and works closely with a broad range of health professionals and academics from the general and scientific communities. Dr Battisti is also a member of Psychologists for Marriage Equality (PME).

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