02 July 2012

The self-delusion of "good" and "bad" refugees

Are there "good refugees" who deserve our help, and "bad refugees" who don't? It's become part of the self-justifying rhetoric of the "stop the boats" crusade that some refugees are better than others. The ones who do the right thing by waiting patiently in refugee camps in Africa are supposedly more worthy of our compassion than the ones who risk their lives on boats to reach our shores without prior permission.

As usual, the purveyors of these myths aren't interested in facts that spoil their fatuous arguments. The journey from Somalia or Sudan to the refugee camps of Kenya is every bit as dangerous, and unauthorised, as the boat trip from Indonesia to Christmas Island. The death toll is impossible to calculate, but the causes are well known: bandits who kidnap, rape and kill, hunger and thirst that leaves the weakest behind on the track, wild animals. Anyone who suggests that these people wouldn't take a boat to a Western haven rather than trudge on to the squalor of places like Dadaab in Kenya is engaging in the self-delusion that is all that Labor and Liberal can offer as a solution to the boat people problem. This is the self-delusion that pretends the problem is solved when you can't see it any more.

There are no good refugees or bad refugees. The urban Jews of Germany and Austria who had assets to sell and pay for their escape were no better or worse than the impoverished Shtetl dwellers of Eastern Europe who had nothing, and were machine-gunned in pits. The people in Dadaab are not waiting because they are better people. They just have no other choice. There are no refugee queues, no genuine refugee is more deserving than any other. We have to stop kidding ourselves about this.

If some Australian government did stop the boats, what would happen to the people? With the line choked off at the end, they would be forced back to squalid camps and precarious lives in Indonesia, Malaysia, and further up the line in Pakistan and Iran. Would that make them good refugees? Or just not our problem?


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