Sunday, April 26, 2009

Asylum seekers and refugees

I heard some wit on the radio ask the question, what is the difference between illegal immigrants and asylum seekers?

Interesting question since we use the two terms very loosely and seem to be confused as to whether there is any difference.

In fact we are overwhelmed with thoughts of compassion, obligation to others less fortunate and our responsibilities and moral imperatives to assist others.

This is an issue that is close to me because firstly, my parents were refugees from political turmoil in Egypt in the 1950's when the rise of nationalism under Nasser resulted in wave of resentment by Egyptians against European settlers.
Secondly, my wife left her country secretly and without her daughter and sought political asylum. She escaped a communist country at the time, Slovakia, for a better life.

Of course my wife and both my parents immigrated to Australia legally, fulfilling all the necessary procedures and legal requirements.

So, you might think it inevitable that I would automatically feel compassion for those refugees that make the dangerous and life threatening voyage on rickety boats from Indonesia to Australia.

Not necessarily so. These refugees who attempt to (metaphorically) storm the gates and gain citizenship to Australia are problematic in the extreme.
The problem is this, Australia does take huge numbers of immigrants from around the world. These immigrants are assessed and processed in due course by immigration authorities.
The boat refugees who attempt to storm the gates and challenge our government to throw away all due process in the name of compassion are putting themselves above those other refugees. Their desperate actions are designed to trigger an emotional response in us that their needs, their wants are somehow more deserving of compassion than those of other refugees.
When confronted by customs officials or the navy on their makeshift refugee boats, they resort to even more desperate measures such as jumping off the boats or setting fire to the boats.

So the Australian community is forced to consider these matters and those of us who let our emotions rule our thinking feel it necessary to extend the arm of compassion and accept these boat people as asylum seekers rather than see them as illegal immigrants.

And here it is necessary to understand why these boat people are not just refugees but illegal immigrants, because they have chosen to pay for their passage fully aware that it is an illegal act but desperate enough to try it anyway.

So that is the difference between an asylum seeker and an illegal refugee.
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Mattexian said...

I think another difference is that the asylum seeker is from a country who's government is unfriendly to your own, and the seeker would face persecution/punishment if they returned to their country-of-origin. The illegal immigrant is from a friendly country, but it's crowded/unpleasant/poor enough for the immigrant to leave, though there isn't any punishment if they return home. Some may even be encouraged to send money to support family members left behind.

At least your country doesn't share hundreds of mile of open border with a country that supports, nay, encourages it's people to illegally immigrate to your country. Your navy and coast guard seem effective in catching them at sea, whereas here the army isn't used widely to patrol our border. Meanwhile the drug gangs are having an open war against their police and military, far south of us.

Lexcen said...

Exactly, looking for a better life doesn't make them asylum seekers.