59.5 million people forcibly displaced!
The United National High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) estimated that 59.5 million people have been forcibly displaced worldwide, and many states recognise that they have a responsibility to help refugees.
However, the political rhetoric surrounding refugees, both in Australia and around the world, is largely negative and ignores the fact that they leave their homes because of armed conflict or persecution. For this reason, it may not be enough to simply resettle refugees in a new country.
The problem requires a humane solution, not a convoluted legalistic approach.
Ariza Arif, BA (University of New South Wales), LLB (Macquarie University) Student-at-Law.
Global refugee news …
- A new deal between Germany and Egypt is expected to stem the flow of refugees from the Middle East. Read more.
- Save the Children and Doctors Without Borders have ceased rescue operations in the Mediterranean due to threats from Libya’s coast guard. Read more.
- Hostility towards Syrian refugees is rising in Lebanon. Read more.
- Around 9,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar have crossed the Bangladeshi border after the army set fire to their villages and killed 96 civilians. Read more.
- Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has come under fire for saying that lawyers who provide pro-bono assistance to refugees are “un-Australian.” Read more.
- The Attorney-General of Papua New Guinea has said that Australia will not be permitted to leave asylum seekers behind when it closes the Manus Island detention centre. Read more.
- Asylum seekers who have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment will no longer receive welfare payments or be allowed to live in government housing. Read more.
- A security guard has been fired and charged with assaulting an asylum seeker on Nauru. Read more.
Comedian and former refugee Anh Do exemplifies the ambition and drive that characterises many refugees now living in Australia.
He and his family travelled on a leaky fishing boat with forty other Vietnamese refugees. They lost most of their food and water in a storm and were later attacked by pirates, who stole the boat’s engine. Five days later, they were rescued by a German merchant ship.
In his 2010 autobiography, The Happiest Refugee, Anh Do openly discussed the voyage, as well as his determination to succeed and help his family.
He went on to earn a double degree in law and business at the University of Technology, Sydney but chose to pursue comedy because it was an easier way to make money. His honesty, charisma, and down to earth personality have made him so successful that in 2000, he was able to buy his mum a house in the western suburbs of Sydney.
It is important not to give in to rhetoric that demonises refugees because, for all we know, they could be the next Anh Do.
BA (UNSW), LLB (Macquarie University) – Student at law
Global refugee news …
- A new identification scheme in Pakistan will grant legal protections to up to a million undocumented Afghan refugees. Read more.
- Italy has warned that it may have to close its ports to refugees if other EU member states do not offer more assistance. Read more.
- A far-right group will go to sea to monitor Mediterranean rescue ships, which they claim are colluding with people smuggling rings to bring refugees to Europe. Read more.
- The crowded conditions at an Indonesian immigration detention centre have been revealed. Read more.
Refugee news in Australia …
- Candlelight vigils were held across Australia to protest offshore detention centres, which are now in their fourth year of operations. Read more.
- About 1200 asylum seekers held on Manus Island will be resettled in the US in October. Read more.
While donations of any amount are greatly appreciated, a gift of $35 will pay the visa application fee for one refugee.
Unlike most charitable organisations, AFFMA is run entirely by volunteers. Every cent of your donation will go to keeping our doors open to the refugees we serve.
This year, give a refugee a chance for a new life in Australia.
There has been heated debate on the role of religion in the refugee crisis.
Some attribute cruel terrorist cults to a specific religious ideology, while others claim they are merely a consequence of the interference of imperial powers. No matter how one looks at it, there can be no doubt about the restrictive nature of the religious ideologies in troubled areas such as the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia.
At AFFMA, we have dealt with clients who have experienced exactly how problematic a dominant national religious ideology can be. Lately, AFFMA’s team of pro bono solicitors and migration agents has been working on a permanent protection visa application for a Bangladeshi client who feared he would face religious persecution for renouncing his religion should he return to his homeland.
His story demonstrates the dangers of fundamental or radical religion and the necessity of achieving worldwide secularism.
Ostracised by his own community
Our client was ostracised by his community, including his own family, for leaving Islam, the religion he was born into.
Although he was simply exercising his right to choose his belief system, his decision to become agnostic was met with hostility by those closest to him. Apostates, sometimes called “infidel” or “kafir” in Islam, are often targeted by family and friends for leaving or even questioning their religion. Many chose to remain quiet, and are considered “closeted” agnostic, atheist, or convert.
Others run away to seek asylum, as in our client’s case.
Here is an extract from the case, taken with the client’s permission, recounted by one of our legal team volunteers:
As a child, this client struggled to express himself within the confinement of his heavily religious and conservative Islamic home. He felt he had no choice in the matter of becoming a Muslim, yet he also had no choice in leaving it.
Many times he suffered the threats of his own father and sometimes underwent scarring physical abuse simply because he alluded to having mere doubts about the religion.
In the community of Bangladesh, particularly the area he lived in, the man’s differing ideologies were publicly shunned and if anyone spoke of having doubts concerning religious beliefs they could be immediately reported to higher authorities.
Many feared the succeeding consequences of speaking out. He was living in constant fear.”
Another member of AFFMA’s leagl team, with access and permission, reported more extensively on this case. She writes that:
The issues that arose in this matter included whether there was sufficient evidence to demonstrate to the Department that the client was in fact agnostic, and that he faced persecution in Bangladesh based on these beliefs, were he made to return.”
1951 Refugee Convention
Here it should be mentioned that a lack of belief is considered a belief for the purposes of the 1951 Refugee Convention, as incorporated into Australian domestic law by the enactment of the Migration Act 1958. Australia has accepted atheism as grounds for asylum for those fleeing religious persecution.
The AFFMA team made submissions to the Department in support of our client, asserting that a conversion from Islam to agnosticism was a basis for a “well-founded fear of persecution” in a country such as Bangladesh, where more than 85 % of the population is Sunni Muslim and the national religion is Islam.
Posting or circulating “blasphemous” material in some countries can end in incarceration or death. According to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), anti-Islamist bloggers in Bangladesh are vulnerable to violence, with limited protection from the government. Sadly, it seems that the public agrees with the strict punishments put in place; in Bangladesh, many have even marched in favour of the death penalty.
The same volunteer migration lawyer noted that:
While the applicant was not a “high-profile blogger” and therefore lacked the notoriety and the corresponding high degree of risk of harm, the AFFMA team asserted that the applicant’s social media activity and the death threats directed at him meant that the applicant faced a significant risk of harm were he forced to return to Bangladesh.”
I would like to wish this brave individual the best. I hope to see him attain a protection visa and settle comfortably in a state where he will not be abused, ostracized, or threatened for his personal beliefs.
The number of people forced to seek safety because of well-founded fears of persecution, conflict, violence, and violations of human rights is at a record high, leading to an ongoing refugee crisis.
By the end of 2015, more than 65 million people had been displaced. More than half of these refugees come from three countries: Syria, Afghanistan, and Somalia. Despite the dominant narrative in the media, the refugee crisis requires a humane solution.
Australia’s resettlement policies have some positive aspects, but policies regarding asylum seekers, especially those arriving by boat, demonstrate little to no empathy.
The Refugee Council has noted that the situation in offshore detention centres has “deteriorated significantly in the last two years as the prolonged detention and deprivation of hope has started to break greater numbers of people.”
Indefinite detention is not a viable or humane solution, and we should help people settle in Australia.
BA (UNSW), LLB (Macquarie University) – Student at law.