"You are a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, and a sister. You only want what is best for your family, yet you struggle to provide even adequate shelter from the harsh weather. There's no shade during the hot days, and thread-bare blankets do little to keep you warm at night. Every day is a struggle as you search for food. The packages delivered by the allied forces are scarcely enough to fill those aching bellies, but you are grateful nevertheless. The wells are drying up, and clean drinking water will soon be just a memory. Each night is a hell like no other as you listen to mortar fire and bombs dropping in the distance, never knowing where the next one may fall. You feel blessed for the moment because your children are still alive, and guilty relief washes over you as someone else's child is found to be the next landmine victim. You envy those allied troops as they come through your village, and wonder what life is like for them, wherever it is they may be from. You are happy for their presence though, as it means that the bandits are kept at bay and the knife you keep under your pillow leaves less of an impression on your cheek each morning. You wonder why this is all happening. Why is your government persecuting it's own people? Why is there so much death? You have no radio, no tv and no way of knowing if this will ever end.
Then one day a stranger comes into your village, bringing with him great promises. Promises of escape. You wonder if this is really possible? Could selling all your possessions, leaving everything you have ever known, and travelling across wild oceans really mean that you may be able to find a new life? A life in a peaceful land? The idea hardly seems real, but you decide that the risk is worth taking. Your children deserve to live free from oppression and war, and you are willing to make this journey. The stranger has promised you Australia. Your knowledge of this country is small, but he tells you that it is a great land. A free land. The stranger tells you that you can seek asylum there, and in good time, it can be your new home."
Imagine living like this. And then imagine the courage and desperation it takes to put your life, and the lives of your children, into the hands of complete strangers. Imagine the fear and helplessness you would experience when faced with the rickety boat that is supposed to carry you to a new land. I find it hard to picture myself in that situation, and thankfully I will NEVER need to experience it.
So what is an asylum seeker? Many people believe that they are illegal immigrants, but that is incorrect. They will only become an illegal immigrant when and if they overstay any visa they may be granted. An asylum seeker is quite simply someone who has fled their own country, generally escaping war, violence and persecution. On arrival in another country, they then apply to the government for protection as a refugee. The are not breaking any rules and should not be punished with remote or indefinite detention. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 14 that "everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries, asylum from persecution".
I don't have the answer to Australia's immigration issue, but I do know that we accept far fewer immigrants and asylum seekers than many other first-world nations. We have signed treaties that assume we will take in our fair share. It is only fair that we do. I agree that arriving by boat puts many lives at risk, but in most cases this is the only chance these people have to be able to live the life we all take for granted. To turn those boats around and to send them back to their troubled countries, is no different than sentencing these unfortunate people to death. The idea of that is horrifying to me. Nor should we be sentencing them to lengthy terms of detention. They are not queue jumpers. They are still required to undergo the same immigration application as anyone else, and while that is being processed, they are entitled to asylum.
Australia needs to come up with a plan that is both humane, quick and the best for everyone. Whoever comes to power in the next election needs to find a solution that has 'human rights' as it's first priority.