A great deal of misinformation swirls around the issue of asylum seekers, with neither the left nor right side of politics able to find a way to just respond, and then lay this political ‘football’ to rest.
Without wishing to add to the misinformation, I am reprinting a part of an article from the National Times website by Fairfax journalist Michael Gordon that I read this week. I believe it sheds some light on the facts.
Two-thirds of Australians are sympathetic towards refugees coming to Australia, but almost as many say the first thing they think of when they hear the word
‘refugee’ is ‘boat people’.
A national survey prepared for the United Nations refugee agency has also found that half the population is less sympathetic towards refugees who come to Australia by boat than those who come by plane or from refugee camps overseas.
The regional representative of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Richard Towle, said the results suggested much of the political debate was having the effect of turning public opinion against all refugees.
“This survey shows Australians have a deep underlying sympathy towards refugees who are forced to flee their homelands to escape persecution and conflict,” Mr Towle said. But much of the public debate, including “unhelpful commentary about queue-jumpers”, was undermining the system of protection for refugees.
His remarks came as former prime minister Malcolm Fraser accused the opposition of basing its latest border protection policy on “misinformed and misleading information that plays straight into the unfounded public fear of asylum seekers”.
After the opposition announced measures to penalise those who came to Australia without travel documents, Mr Fraser accused its leader, Tony Abbott, and immigration spokesman Scott Morrison of “a blatant playing of politics with the lives of vulnerable people”.
The survey of 1000 people was conducted by nfpSynergy between April and May as part of a larger survey of attitudes in 11 countries.
While they show that many Australians have negative responses when asked what first comes to mind when they hear or read the word ‘refugee’, almost 50 per cent said ‘desperate’ was the first word that came to mind, 43 per cent said ‘need help’ and 42 per cent said ‘in need of protection’.
Mr Towle said the survey showed the Australian population was “extremely confused” about asylum issues.
He described ‘queue jumping’ as the “most toxic and poisonous expression one could find to undermine the institution of asylum”, insisting that there is no queue.