It is now time for Labor to pay for its bipartisanship on Phillip Ruddock and John Howard 's exploitation of the fear of refugees. SBS television's social experiment might do in three days what refugee advocates have being trying to do for decades: tell voters that refugees are not illegals, criminals or terrorists but rather are people, desperate and frightened, and seeking safety and protection.
Can you walk a mile in the shoes of a refugee? This is a question I first asked when I visited asylum seekers in Villawood detention centre in the weeks before the 2001 federal election. As national president of 'Fair go for Refugees', I continue to do so.
What happens when six 'ordinary' Australians live with refugees and share their journey for 25 days? SBS television's Go Back to where you come from? (airing from 21-23 June 2011) is finding out.
"Deprived of their wallets, phones and passports" six Australians "board a leaky refugee boat, are rescued mid-ocean, experience immigration raids in Malaysia, live in a Kenyan refugee camp and visit slums in Jordan before ultimately making it to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iraq, protected by UN Peacekeepers and the US military."
A refugee journey in reverse, three participants begin in the Western Sydney suburb of Liverpool and three in the rural town of Albury. In Albury, they are immediately confronted by the experiences of the Masudi family, originally from Burundi and the Congo, who arrived in Australia from Kenya in mid-2009. The family was granted re-settlement in Australia after spending nine years in Kakuma Refugee Camp in north-west Kenya.
In Liverpool, three Australian's meet Wasmi, Salah, Nayef and Thair all from Iraq, all arrived in Australia within the last two years, and all now live in south-western Sydney. On their first day the Iraqi's take them to Villawood detention centre. Within three days, they are on a leaky boast heading to an unknown destination, as is the reality for many asylum seekers.
With the boat apparently leaking, they are rescued. But SBS has manipulated the situation and at least one of the participants is annoyed. The boat was not leaking and the participants were never at risk. Unlike those that attempted the journey to Australia on the SIEVX – of which 146 children, 142 women and 65 men drowned on their way to Australia on an Indonesian fishing boat and unlike the deaths of those off the rocks of Christmas Island in December 2010, the Australians were safely rescued from the 'staged' event.
SBS's social media experiment continues over the next two nights supported by a web site, that asks "Could you survive an asylum seeker' journey?"
Visitors are asked to participate in an interactive fact-based simulation and to take the quiz 'Boat people are queue jumpers: where do you stand?' It provides factsheets on some of the common myths about asylum seekers and refugees. Such as:
Are asylum seekers who arrive by boat illegal immigrants?
Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are neither engaging in illegal activity, nor are they immigrants. The U.N. Refugee Convention (to which Australia is a signatory) recognises that refugees have a right to enter a country for the purposes of seeking asylum, regardless of how they arrive or whether they hold valid travel or identity documents.
How safe are refugee camps?
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