The Way Australia Cooks Its Refugee Books Is Just Not Cricket
We have little to be proud of in our treatment of refugees. We need to honestly shine a light on our country's shame.
Two years ago Indian teenager Pranav Dhanawade shot to instant fame when he swung a phenomenal 1009 runs off 55 overs in a schoolboys match. In a nation mad on cricket, the lanky 15-year-old found himself morphing overnight into India's next Great Cricket Hope.
Dhanawade's massive tally stood fair and square, but as the days progressed and the country hit new levels of cricket delirium, the young lad’s achievements were revealed to have occurred in some rather mitigating circumstances. For starters, the opposing team was mostly three years his junior – 12-year-olds – cobbled together at the last minute when the usual team of older boys no-showed on the day, too busy studying for a major exam to play.
Reports in the local media described the fielders standing immobile, like high-visibility cones around the ground. Probably because many of them had not played cricket with anything tougher than a tennis ball prior to this match.
The square leg boundary was just 30m from the crease. The team dropped sitters and misfielded. They apparently missed 21 catches and fluffed three stumpings. So while the batter’s 129 fours and 59 sixes was clearly an effort worthy of a nod, the context cast a very different light on young Dhanawade's amazing score.
Context is everything; always is. Run tallies and league tables are meaningless without the details of who and where and when; all the contributing factors.
So it is sad to see in a nation that prides itself on our sporting fair play spirit, that when it comes to pulling our refugee resettlement weight in the global community, Australia hides smugly behind its own rubbery figures. The Turnbull Government likes to make much of us accepting the third largest number of refugees for formal resettlement each year. That’s an expected 18,750 people in 2018.
But this claim is revealed as mere bluster when we discover that the 'third' spot is out of a comparison with a small club of two dozen nations who offer formal resettlement programs, not the entire world!
The bluster diminishes to a murmur when you put our 18,750 refugees into the context of the 68.5 million people around the world currently forcibly displaced from their homes. (Like scoring dozens of fours down the 30-metre boundary.)
Most pertinently though, by far the majority of these - 84 percent - are hosted, often indefinitely, in developing countries. (Turkey has 2.9 million, Pakistan 1.4 million and Lebanon has one million.) Some of these host countries are least equipped to handle such a massive influx of humanity. Australia and our government's claims don’t look so shiny anymore.
Humanitarian agencies can mobilise to help ease some of the misery, to give children hope that they can dream of being a nurse or a truck driver, a scientist or a teacher. And to give parents the means to keep their families fed and sheltered. But better still is a global community that can move to stop this sort of human displacement occurring in the first place. Prevention is always better than a cure, especially when half of those displaced are children.
There are things prosperous countries like Australia can do early for communities most at risk of joining the 68.5 million forcibly displaced. Aid money from Australia can earthquake-proof vulnerable schools, it can provide fresh water and functioning toilets to reduce water-borne disease, it can help educate girls and empower women to be community and business leaders, it can drought-proof land so farmers can withstand the next dry spell and keep feeding their families.
These incredible initiatives are all happening, but the Australian Government is contributing less and less of its budget each year to programs like these. And the more mean-spirited Australia and other rich nations become in their giving to vulnerable communities, the more people will be forced to flee.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop last week gave an emphatic “Absolutely” in response to the question of whether we need a bigger aid budget. She’s right. It’s time the Federal Government stopped stripping money away from the people in the world who need it most.
When it comes to the question of Australia's fair share there, has been a range of analysis into what would constitute each country’s fair share of refugee resettlement globally, in the context of such factors as GDP and population.
We are calling on the government to increase our official humanitarian intake to 44,000 refugees annually. That is the same number of people who were displaced each day last year, according to a report released Monday by the UNHCR. It's not a big ask.
I challenge the Government to reach this annual intake within five years. Of those, 22,000 places should be reserved strictly for the most vulnerable refugees, without regard to their race, religion, nationality, or other factors perceived to affect their so-called 'integration prospects'.
Australia has shown it can increase its humanitarian support with the one-off Syrian and Iraqi intake two years ago. Australians are generous people – there is lots of unhelpful political debate about offshore detention, but this is a political no-brainer – our government should reflect the generosity of Australians.
No refugee deserves to be held indefinitely without resettlement prospects on Manus Island and Nauru. This, of all Australia’s refugee black marks, tops the list. It breaches basic human rights and our international obligations.
Let’s stop kidding ourselves. I have seen the dire circumstances of people living in refugee camps forced to flee violence. They didn’t want to leave their homes. They resisted it as much as we would resist being chased from our homes and cities. These people are hurting the same way we would hurt.
Today is World Refugee Day. We celebrate the resilience and survival of those blessed enough to have found new homes, living safe and free. But it’s also an important time for Australia to pause and consider how it should build real credibility on the world stage in meeting our global responsibilities for displaced people. Particularly given our now tarnished reputation due to our policies on offshore detention.
We could start by stopping our practice of cooking the books, trying to make ourselves look good when we have little to be proud of in our treatment of refugees. We need to shine a light honestly into the hole that is our refugee shame. Then we should do something to fix it.
*Claire Rogers is World Vision Australia CEO