The look of silence never blinks: Why Australia won’t help the Rohingya
August 10, 2015 2:39 PM   Subscribe

Richard Cooke visits Rohingya refugees in Malaysia and looks at Australia's history of collaborating with human-rights abusers: "There’s a strange feeling in the room. An unusual aspect of being subjected to a 21st-century genocide-in-progress is that there are templates, blueprints, precedents. They know the fate of the Bosnian Muslims, of the Vietnamese boat people, of the Tutsis. They know this will take a long time, that their fate is uncertain. There is patience, and much more humour than I anticipated."

What are these templates, blueprints, and precedents?
Cataloguing the discriminations and violence visited on the Rohingya would fill this article many times over. But it is also easy to summarise: their persecution is total. Rohingya cannot freely work, marry, travel, move, have children, go to school, farm, own land, own houses, eat, shop, or worship. They are taxed arbitrarily – levies on “animal slaughter” extend even to pets dying of natural causes. Their homes and businesses have been destroyed, and they have been herded into camps where almost all humanitarian organisations are banned. Burmese officials, and many Burmese people, refuse to even use the word “Rohingya”. They call them “Bengalis” instead, or “kalar”, a colonial-era epithet that means something like “nigger”. This terminology is used with regularity on state television. Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has said nothing about the treatment of the Rohingya.
Previously.
posted by Ouverture (25 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
 
How to get Australia to help you if you're a minority:

1) Know your place. A white person is never wrong. If you try to insist we might just boo you.
2) Ask politely but be warned we have a lot to do so we might not actually be in parliament to receive your request. The Greens will leave us a voicemail anyway.
3) Don't you fucking dare come here uninvited seeking solace from persecution or we'll make things so hellish for you that you'll wish you were back where you came from.

Not practical? Well Australia has a long respected tradition of upholding human rights so shut the hell up.

Refugee and human rights issues are the biggest black mark on my homeland. I hate the way that politicians and my countryfolk treat their situations with such contempt. It makes me ashamed to be Australian.
posted by Talez at 2:59 PM on August 10, 2015 [28 favorites]


I lived in Malaysia and during the time we were there, we worked with a couple of different agencies / NGOs serving the communities of refugees there. UNHCR has roughly 150,000 registered refugees, and that's just the registered ones. We worked with Sudanese, Pakistani Christians, and folks from any number of oppressed SEA nations.

We also visited Australia on vacation for Christmas and found it about as ethnically diverse as, say, Montana.

I guess if you have a lot, you need more. Say what you will of Malaysia, their politics, the corruption, etc.. At least they harbor refugees. I mean hell.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:33 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


John Pilger - Land of Fear - Inside Burma.
posted by adamvasco at 4:23 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Say what you will of Malaysia, their politics, the corruption, etc.. At least they harbor refugees. I mean hell.

I'm happy to be proven wrong - please do, actually, since facts on this issue seem scarce or seem to elude me - but I'm of the impression that there's no pathway for any refugees in Malaysia to become residents / citizens of Malaysia, they don't even have the right to work or go to school, while there's been a significant number of refugees every year in Australia that do become residents / citizens of Australia - which is the main reason why refugees skip Malaysia on the way to Australia.

(though I've heard the government is trying to close even that pathway this year)

Which also explains the smaller number of refugees in Australia (since they get converted to permanent residents over time, used to be, what, 7,000 per year, and thus they're not classified as refugees anymore, while in Malaysia the refugee number just goes higher and higher every year with new arrivals with the only outlet the small number of resettlements that the UN takes and places offshore in America / Australia anyway)

So, you know, of course Australia has less refugees than other countries, because they're converted to permanent residents under protection visas and thus no longer count as refugees. The number of refugees that Australia has given permanent residency to over the years has to be larger than the total number of refugees in Malaysia.

(not defending Australia's conduct at all, which has been disgraceful, but there is a good reason why the refugees are skipping Malaysia and making their way over to Australia)
posted by xdvesper at 5:16 PM on August 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


Why Australia won’t help the Rohingya

Because we are governed by a bunch of craven, racist assholes who would shoot a refugee in the head, roast them, and eat them (and not necessarily in that order) if it would get them a single solitary vote.

Both major parties prioritise votes over anything and everything, including leadership, decency, and human rights.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:45 PM on August 10, 2015 [9 favorites]


We also visited Australia on vacation for Christmas and found it about as ethnically diverse as, say, Montana.

Over a quarter of Australians were born overseas. A further 20% are second generation immigrants. This makes this ridiculous racism of the government even more perplexing to me.

By comparison, almost 90% of Montana residents are white.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:53 PM on August 10, 2015 [11 favorites]


We also visited Australia on vacation for Christmas and found it about as ethnically diverse as, say, Montana.

Yeah, it really depends where you go. Sure, there are definitely very anglo suburbs where anyone making less than $150k a year is completely priced out of living. Many country towns are also pretty anglo. I used to live in a very white suburb of Melbourne, where a Greek or Italian family was about as close as you got to ethnic diversity, or maybe the people running the local Chinese/Indian restaurant. Then I moved to a suburb which still has a fair chunk of anglos and urban hipsters, but also Ethiopians, Somalis, Indians, Sri Lankans, Thai, Malaysians, Philipinos, Indonesians as well as the Chinese, Vietnamese, Greeks, Italians and Macedonians from previous waves of immigration. (Chinese people have been here nearly as long as the anglos!)

However I cannot defend Australia's policies on refugees. I would like to think that if we ever got rid of Mr Rabbit it would get better, but sadly Labor are about as racistly paranoid as the Libs and have shown themselves to be just as spineless and incapable of true leadership. I know it's a political minefield, and not just in terms of the voters and getting re-elected. The government needs to actually plan to support refugees, and that takes not just policies but money, infrastructure, negotiation, leadership. It will be a long-term investment rather than an immediate gain and politicians have short attention spans.

And in the meantime our policies and conditions in the camps breach the international convention against torture according to the UN. People suffer every day. Even the rallying cry of "think of the children" is insufficient to end the hell that refugees go through. I hate to say that the Rohingya may be better off in Malaysia because I'm sure it's not great there either, but Australia currently seems to be following the path of "we will make it so unattractive to come here that people will put up with the hell they're in rather than trade it for the hell we'll create for them". We can do better than that. We should do better than that.
posted by Athanassiel at 6:39 PM on August 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Over a quarter of Australians were born overseas. A further 20% are second generation immigrants. This makes this ridiculous racism of the government even more perplexing to me.

Yeah, but that's a somewhat misleading statistic. Both my husband and I were born overseas, and we are whiter than white. When we did our antenatal class at a public hospital in Sydney (in fairness, in the eastern suburbs), of the 24 individuals in the room, 23 were white, and only four of them had actually been born in Australia. I know tons of white European/American immigrants on their way to PR/citizenship, or who have had kids here. See also, Tony Abbott, who technically qualifies. I think there's a lot of back and forth between the UK and Australia, and the US and Australia, and a lot of European 20 somethings who come backpacking here and then never leave who skew the numbers you quoted. Not to say there aren't plenty of non-white ex-pats/immigrants, just that demographically, there's a massive difference between many of us who count in the stats and the people trying to reach Australia as refugees. And unfortunately that means people are dicks about it, because in their heads, THEY don't count, or THEY were able to easily be assimilated into the language and culture/they were able to navigate complex and expensive visa processes to come here legally/blah blah blah.
posted by olinerd at 7:18 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but that's a somewhat misleading statistic.

I disagree. 'White' is not a useful ethnic or ancestral grouping for the purpose of assessing multiculturalism, any more than 'brown' is. People with an English cultural background are not culturally the same as people with a German background, but they would likely both be classed as white. I would argue that that level of simplification is misleading.

Not to say there aren't plenty of non-white ex-pats/immigrants, just that demographically, there's a massive difference between many of us who count in the stats and the people trying to reach Australia as refugees.

Yes, true. The latter are all non-white. Funny that.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:53 PM on August 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


Both my husband and I were born overseas, and we are whiter than white. When we did our antenatal class at a public hospital in Sydney (in fairness, in the eastern suburbs), of the 24 individuals in the room, 23 were white, and only four of them had actually been born in Australia.

This series of maps is pretty useful for finding out where the highest concentrations of immigrants are (and where they were born).
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:07 PM on August 10, 2015 [3 favorites]


we are governed by a bunch of craven, racist assholes who would shoot a refugee in the head, roast them, and eat them (and not necessarily in that order) if it would get them a single solitary vote

...all the while crying crocodile tears about Deaths At Sea and spouting platitudes about the need to keep on Turning Back The Boats in order to Deny People Smugglers A Business Model.

Current Australian asylum seeker policy essentially boils down to "go away and die where none of us can see you do it". It is fucking disgusting.

The only political party that doesn't support it is the Greens. Needless to say, they have my vote.
posted by flabdablet at 9:49 PM on August 10, 2015 [5 favorites]


But what is to be done when there are many more refugees in the world than Australia's entire population? The Convention on Refugees was written when there were far fewer refugees, and far greater barriers to travel. Our policy of admitting (some) people who reach our shores is like making hungry people run a marathon to get dinner: what we need to do is stop the persecution at its source.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:15 PM on August 10, 2015


Not to say there aren't plenty of non-white ex-pats/immigrants, just that demographically, there's a massive difference between many of us who count in the stats and the people trying to reach Australia as refugees.

Yes, true. The latter are all non-white. Funny that.


But that's my point. You said you didn't understand why Australia has such racist goverment policies when a high percentage of Australians are foreign-born or second-gen. I'm saying that (unfortunately) makes sense because a significant percentage of that percentage are considered white for purposes of examining privilege and racism. Brits and Germans may have different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but when it comes to the LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT or I CAME HERE LEGALLY WHY CAN'T YOU attitude, I find both Brit and German immigrants (and their immediate descendants) can have a lot in common.

I suppose I could instead re-classify it as "Western." A significant percentage of foreign-born Australians are "Western." It's the non-Westerners (which indeed coincidentally tend to be classified as non-white) that create the headlines that inspire the crappy policies. And yeah, that's shit.

I'm on your side here, Red Thoughts, I guess I just don't find it particularly perplexing given my experience with many of those "one in four Australians."
posted by olinerd at 10:33 PM on August 10, 2015


I'm on your side here, Red Thoughts, I guess I just don't find it particularly perplexing given my experience with many of those "one in four Australians."

I think it's a personal blind spot for me. I live in my own progressive ivory tower; my social circles are actors and lawyers, I live in the Sydney's inner west, I work in the CBD in tech and law (which is pretty ethnically diverse). Even though I'm a brown guy in a white country - so to speak - I don't often personally experience direct racism aimed at me in my day to day life, or meet racist people.

At least, if I do meet racist people, I think that the contexts I meet them in and that fact that I am an ethnic minority myself means that they are unlikely to exhibit their racism to my face.

So, when I see the depths of Australian racism expressed in polling, voting patterns and government, I have to wonder, "Who are all these people?". It seems to me that being an immigrant or the child of one should give you more perspective on immigration issues, but all it seems to do is create more opportunities for oblivious hypocrisy.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:43 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, but it's so tied to socioeconomic status, too. "Immigrant," to many people connotes teeming masses yearning to be free, versus those nice financially sound ex-pats who aren't a drain on the system. I'm an immigrant, but my primary complaints about immigrating to Australia are having to renew my Medicare card yearly, getting hit with wild exchange rate fluctuations when paying visa fees in foreign currencies, and filling out stupid forms. That's a totally different immigration experience than refugees or other immigrants coming from more dire situations have - and I think that's a massive blind spot for a lot of foreign-born Aussies. My complaints are there, but immigration was still pretty easy for me -- I'm a financially stable, gainfully employed, married-to-an-Aussie, tech-savvy person who could navigate the websites and print and scan forms and get statutory declarations sorted quickly and never need to involve an immigration professional. It takes some real thinking to adequately conceive of how difficult every step of that process must be for someone who is not me. And I think most immigrants from higher socioeconomic backgrounds just don't bother to do that, which leads to policies that are literally killing people who can't do it "right".
posted by olinerd at 11:05 PM on August 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


but I'm of the impression that there's no pathway for any refugees in Malaysia to become residents / citizens of Malaysia

this is largely correct. We're not signatory to the Convention on the Rights of Refugees, which makes Malaysia really at most, a halfway house. The full expectation on the part of the government is that these refugees are to be processed and to migrate completely elsewhere, which is where organisations such as the UNHCR comes in (here's a FAQ sheet prepared by them). There is some sympathy for Muslim refugees, but the point remains.
posted by cendawanita at 12:03 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


Over a quarter of Australians were born overseas. A further 20% are second generation immigrants.

Yeah, but around a third of that first lot are from the UK or New Zealand. And that second stat is actually 'has at least one parent born overseas', which isn't quite the same as 'mum and dad both came on a boat', and you have to factor in the UK / NZ load again. So, still whiter than white, especially once you chuck in Italy, Germany, South Africa...

I live in Canberra, which I like to think is multicultural, but when my brother visits from Sydney he says it's like the 50s, because everybody is white. White, white, everywh...oh, a Chinese guy - never mind, Belco born, Aussie accent, hey mate how's it goin'...white, white...

This is changing - see the uptick in Indian immigration post 2007 - but this is recent, and slow. And let's be honest, it doesn't matter how long you've been here. "I grew here, you flew here, nah, come on mate, where are you really from?" will prevail.

People with an English cultural background are not culturally the same as people with a German background, but they would likely both be classed as white. I would argue that that level of simplification is misleading.

Really? You reckon you could put a Pom, a Kiwi and an Aussie in a room and they'd see themselves as having fundamentally different cultures in contrast to non-white people? If you said 'so, you're all white', they'd say 'well, that's a bit of an oversimplification?' Because 'Get out of the way we can't see the fuckin' cricket' is what they'd really say.

My father-in-law is German and his whole world revolves around the bloody RSL. He rants about immigrants and 'Abos' and I say 'Jesus you're a racist' and he says 'oh I suppose that's because I'm German is it?' and I say 'no, it's because you're a naturalised white Australian.'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 2:18 AM on August 11, 2015 [3 favorites]


I have to wonder, "Who are all these people?"

I'm from QLD. I grew up in the country. In QLD. It's another world up there, truly - but it's just more naked about what's a pretty solid reality for a lot of Australians, not to mention immigrants against immigrants like that dickwad Viet Liberal one-time boat person on the last season of Go Back To Where You Came From ("It was different for us," he said. Sure it was, mate.)

You spoke about tech circles, hie thee to the whirlpool forums and read some of the juicier posts in the "Lifestyle" or "In The News" threads. There was a great one where a person who is some kind of Asian complained about the racist treatment they received in Adelaide. The outrage and scoffing was something to behold.

I do think it's not just a "white vs. whatever" demographic thing. This... fear is a fundamental part of the Australian identity and culture, I would argue - it's a discourse that's been present since white people arrived here in one way or another, and as people with different cultural backgrounds assimilate, so too is it absorbed by them.
posted by smoke at 4:39 AM on August 11, 2015 [1 favorite]


I disagree. 'White' is not a useful ethnic or ancestral grouping for the purpose of assessing multiculturalism, any more than 'brown' is. People with an English cultural background are not culturally the same as people with a German background, but they would likely both be classed as white. I would argue that that level of simplification is misleading.

It may represent a significant difference for first generation immigrants, especially when there's a language difference.

However, after a couple of generations, "white" Australians are just that (perhaps with an interesting German or Dutch or Polish name) whereas "visible minorities" (the term we use in Canada - a rather similar country to Australia in terms of history) are still "visible".
posted by theorique at 5:18 AM on August 11, 2015


I wonder whether Australia would be more open to the Rohingya if they weren't Muslims. The country seems to be hysterical with fear about Muslims and Islam, with polls showing that Australians see Islamic State as the biggest threat to their country (climate change doesn't even figure).
posted by acb at 9:37 AM on August 11, 2015


I wonder whether Australia would be more open to the Rohingya if they weren't Muslims

No question about it.

The country seems to be hysterical with fear about Muslims and Islam

You would not credit the number of times I've overheard conversations about the imminent threat of the country being taken over by Sharia law.

Australians see Islamic State as the biggest threat to their country (climate change doesn't even figure)

... a set of priorities pushed with obscene glee by the PM's office.
posted by flabdablet at 10:11 AM on August 11, 2015 [2 favorites]


I wonder whether Australia would be more open to the Rohingya if they weren't Muslims.

Made me think that a logical place for them to go would be to much closer and much more Muslim Malaysia. Or Indonesia.

Apparently not.
posted by IndigoJones at 2:56 PM on August 11, 2015


Made me think that a logical place for them to go would be to much closer and much more Muslim Malaysia. Or Indonesia.

This is an issue that the world encounters with migrants. e.g. Why resettle Syrians in Germany when Turkey is closer and culturally more similar? Why resettle Somalis in Sweden when Ethiopia is closer and culturally more similar?

From the point of view of the individuals on the move, the answer is pretty clear - it's safer and economically more advantageous. From the point of view of the target nations, it's not as clear what is gained, but some persons and organizations within more successful nations do feel an obligation.
posted by theorique at 4:13 AM on August 12, 2015


Living in Malaysia as a Refugee - it's value too though. A migrant who will immediately add to the host country vs a refugee who needs humanitarian aid and has a high chance of being neutral or even a drain on the host country's resources. Rich outweighs race.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 9:09 AM on August 12, 2015


I think this really deserves its own FPP, but since this one's already open: Myanmar Striking Rohingya From Voter Rolls, Activists Say
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:45 AM on August 25, 2015


« Older How a Fringe Theocratic Movement Helped Shape the...   |   We go by "G" now. Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments