Al Jazeera Blogs


Asia

What asylum seekers are really seeking

There is only so much of politicians that a person can take.

Last modified: 30 Jun 2012 20:53

There is only so much of politicians that a person can take.

After watching, first, Australia’s lower house of parliament, and then its Senate, debate new laws aimed at deterring asylum seekers from travelling to their shores by boat, I had seen enough.

The politicians were full of contradictions and hypocrisy, and the debate ultimately went nowhere. The vote on the new laws failed to pass.

So, with another TV report to do, I decided to keep it raw.

No politicians, no commentators, just refugees themselves.

What did people who’d come to Australia by boat themselves think of the debate?

We sat, cross legged, in a western Sydney park and had our own debate.

Their views surprised me: they were as full as contradictions as the politicians!

I had a preconceived idea that they’d see “people smugglers” in a more benign way than the politicians who labelled them “evil”. After all, it was smugglers that had delivered them, safely, to Australia.

Instead, the truth was far from it.

All the refugees had feared for their lives on their journey. All had felt exploited.

Three of four refugees I spoke to in the park said they would tell others standing on the Indonesian shore not to get on a similar boat.

Yet they were also sure that their own boat passage had saved their lives.

People smugglers’ motives may not have been pure, but they felt they owed them a debt of gratitude.

As for stopping the boats, they said that would not save lives; it would just lead them to being lost to oppressors rather than the ocean.

There was disagreement. One of the four – the only one, interestingly, who had not had to travel by boat to Australia himself – did think it was worth asylum seekers risking the sea voyage to Australia.

But even though the other three refugees had survived their trips – and all had good new lives in Australia – they were adamant that others should not follow their path.

Even if that path meant oppression or death!

As I said, contradictions are not the sole preserve of politicians.