Australia: A horrific case study in closing borders

The question of resettling Syrian refugees has been a major talking point in our presidential election. Images of injured and hungry Syrian women and children are combated with questions of our national security that fuel American anxieties about letting them in. Trump has said many a time that the immigrants will undergo “extreme vetting” and that he’s going to be “so tough” on letting them in.

“We have no idea who these people are, where they come from,” Trump said of Syrian refugees during his speech in Phoenix on Wednesday. “I always say, Trojan horse. Watch what’s going to happen, folks. It’s not going to be pretty.”

This kind of rhetoric and the historical images that it evokes taps into the fears of the “others” and the “unknown” that Americans feel towards immigrants, especially those of Arabic-speaking countries. The Trojan Horse, as some may forget, is a myth. It was a story from centuries go that never actually happened. If one were to base the implications of extreme vetting, however, on situations that are actually taking place right now, perhaps the American people would think twice about turning Syrian refugees away. I’m talking about Australia and its use of torture on immigrants.

Yes, torture is an extreme word, one which happens to be perfectly suitable for the measures that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and head of immigration Michael Pezzullo have taken in ensuring the boats go elsewhere. Their policy thus far has been to capture boats heading to Australia and send those aboard to camps in Nauru or Papua New Guinea indefinitely. Many who are stuck on the island have died or are suffering from medical inattention. Their acts have been listed as violations of the Convention Against Torture. Little of the Australian public is speaking out against this because the discourse is more more centered around how the refugees aren’t there and less around where they’re actually going. The sort of blissful ignorance is almost certainly what’s going to happen if we leave vetting to the hands of Trump or other administrators that do not have the refugee’s best interests at hand.

This thought would be incomplete without my saying that Syrian refugees aren’t the only refugees that we should be talking about, despite the focused rhetoric of the election. As Emily points out in Refugees Aren’t From Syria, a massive amount of refugees are forgotten in countries in Africa, where 17 million are displaced within the African continent. Of course, there must be a line drawn for the sake of America’s capacity for aid. But must that same line be drawn for our recognition and attention paid to crises beyond our shores?

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6 thoughts on “Australia: A horrific case study in closing borders

  1. While traveling this past summer, I noticed the different standpoints of countries regarding Syrian refugees. In Madrid, a giant banner hung outside of the capitol building, that read “Welcome Refugees.” In Lebanon, almost every taxi driver uttered a cuss word before acknowledging a Syrian pedestrian. There NEEDS to be a universal understanding of the Syrian refugee situation. People MUST acknowledge the gravity of the situation, and find it in their morals to accept the refugees with open arms. If this was happening to them, wouldn’t they want the same?

  2. That Australia example is horrifying. I agree with fitfortakeoff – the Syrian refugee crisis needs to be reframed as a global human rights crisis, not just a byproduct of a polarizing civil war. Regardless of where the countries stand when it comes to Syria, there can be no two sides to protecting these people’s lives. Everyone ought to be inundated with these atrocities not just when its pertinent to our own lives, and especially not just when ISIS carries out an attack on Western soil. Perhaps to Americans it feels like a distant problem, but how differently would we react if these refugees were washing up on our beaches? Sure, the dilemma cannot be wholly extricated from the larger political mess, but we can at least do our part to humanize the situation.

  3. I find it so repugnant that there are so many people who refuse to see that this is a humanitarian issue. How could anyone, in good conscience, turn away a boat of scared and hungry people fleeing a crisis? I am shocked that I had not heard about this issue before reading your post. In my experiences in Australia, people there consider themselves friendly and welcoming. It is time for them to live up to their reputation and stop turning away those boats.

  4. The fact that Trump and others who don’t want the US to allow Syrian refugees into the states uses this rhetoric that “we don’t even know who these people are” is ridiculous. The screening process that the United States uses is very stringent and this fearful rhetoric is completely unfounded. I one hundred percent agree that closing our borders is a mistake, especially as many other countries in Europe may use our inflexibility on the issue as an excuse to not accept refugees either. And then where will the refugees be able to go?

  5. The Australian example is a great one, I hadn’t heard of it until your piece, and I think it’s a good example to Americans of the fears we should be having now that Trump’s administration will crack down on immigration laws. I think it’s quite disturbing that this “Blissful ignorance” is leading our country to revert back to barbarianism. Why can’t we follow the Canadian example? This is not a standard immigration as you mentioned, this is a crisis and how America acts in a crisis is indicative of our power and capacity. To think that the immigration saga has been, and is going to be, very similar to the Australian case, makes me belief we’re being set back a hundred years.

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