There are two distinct threads to any discussion about migration. The first concerns the numbers of migrants that Australia can accommodate. Those who like me, argue that we cannot afford to grow our population argue that 80,000 is about the maximum number that we can accommodate. On the other hand there are those who argue that we actively grow our population and are quite comfortable with our current target of an annual increase of around 200,000.
The second argument concerns the question of how we should determine who should be invited to migrate to Australia. Our government has been quite clear on this issue. Mr Abbott is on record as stating that the current total of 13,000 refugees is all that the Government will accept. In other words marginally over 5% of our total immigrant quota of over 200,000 is set aside for refugees.
So how is our policy flawed? It is flawed in the sense that we appear to have learnt nothing from the last seventy years of migration. If we leave aside the question of actual numbers and simply focus on the question of to whom we should give priority the answer will fall unequivocally in favour of refugees.
There will be those who base their case for refugees on strictly humanitarian grounds. There is no need to revisit those arguments for clearly they have fallen on deaf ears. The only arguments that this government will entertain are those that demonstrate that there are sound economic reasons for preferring refugees over other migrants.
Has anyone asked the question why it is that so many of these refugees are fluent not just in English but in a number of languages? Has anyone asked why it is that these refugees are able to pay the exorbitant amounts that the people smugglers are demanding? Has anyone wondered how these people have been able to support themselves for up to six months on the road? Have we asked what sort of determination drives people to walk thousands of miles away from their homes?
If we want to know the answer to these questions we only have to look at the refugees who have settled in Australia over the past seventy years. In the main these have been the professional elite, people of immense courage and determination. People who wanted to build a better life for their families.
Over the past thirty or so years I have worked with refugees from a number of conflicts – Eastern Europeans, Vietnamese and Cambodians who escaped Communism, Somalis, Eritreans, and people from other parts of Africa. In the dying days of USSR hegemony people from all parts of Eastern Europe – the list goes on and on. What they all had in common was a tremendous determination and a willingness to work hard. It was rare for people to have expressed a strong preference for a particular country – their priority was to get to a country that was politically stable.
When you heard their stories you could not help but admire the triumph of the human spirit. Consider these stories. Two brothers told me how they got out of Eastern Europe – it took them three days to cross the last two hundred metres as they inched their way across the ground in the knowledge that the guards had orders to shoot on sight. The Vietnamese boy who had seen the boat he was on boarded by pirates who took all their valuables, raped the women and then killed all the adults leaving the kids to survive as best as they could. Or what of the boy whose family had paid a small fortune for him to be allowed to join a group who were going to be guided across the Sahara. The guides deserted them of the thirty who started out four managed to somehow walk across the desert.
These are not the sort of people who will come here to be dole bludgers; they have given up too much, taken too many risks not to want to make a success of their lives – these people are genuinely hungry to succeed and will be a credit in any endeavour.
By no means all refugees have taken these tremendous risks. But ask yourself why would a successful lawyer sell all his belongings to leave his country? Why would a professor of Mathematics at age fifty leave his land and take his extended family into an uncertain future? Why would a successful surgeon come to Australia and be prepared to accept a job as a chicken boner?
The adults all tell much the same story – they made these sacrifices for their children. They knew that because of their politics, their religion, their ethnicity, their sexual orientation or a combination of all of these that there was simply no future for them or their children.
If we are going to encourage migration then at very least we should be aiming to get the very best people. Just compare the difference between someone filling out forms to get here and someone who basically puts everything on the line. The one who made the biggest sacrifice has the greatest incentive to make a positive contribution to this country.
Once we have sorted out who comes here the next challenge is to determine how many people we can take. Were we to limit our total migrant intake to 50,000 refugees we would be doing more than our fair share in looking after refugees and as well as ensuring that we maintain a stable population.
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