June 7, 2010 Refugee Week

Refugee Week is coming up very soon, but it’s in danger of being crowded out by other slightly less worthwhile campaigns, like Avocado Awareness month, Painted Toenails Day, and Don’t Take Your Hamster to School Week.

I don’t mean to devalue avocados or hamsters — oh dammit, let’s not beat around the bush, yes I do. Compared to avocados and hamsters, refugees are a global challenge on a vast scale.

The day may come when we will say we have succeeded or failed as a society, as a civilisation, depending on how well we have looked after the desperate and homeless people who have been forced to leave their hills and valleys, their villages and towns, in search of safety.

Why are we so horrible to the people who come wading up the beach from the ocean, climbing out of the boots of cars, knocking on our doors, looking for somewhere nice to live?

It’s a simple question, but I ask it again. Why are we so vicious and violent towards them?

They just want what we want, what we or our ancestors wanted when they came here. Why do we hate them, why are we so suspicious of them, why do we slander them? Why do we want to lock them up? Why do we want to send them back, send them away, get rid of them? Above all, send them somewhere else, anywhere, just GET THEM AWAY FROM ME, FROM US.

Experts say that the stock market runs on greed and fear. Is it going too far to say that the whole of western society is driven by these two powerful passions?

Greed. These displaced people might take our jobs. We might have to support them. They might need housing. They might need Social Security and sickness benefits. We might have to pay higher taxes. We might have to give them money.

Fear. They might be terrorists. They might be criminals. They might change our way of living. If we let a thousand in, a hundred thousand might follow. They might crowd us out. They might lower our standards. They might not learn English.
We might be forced out of our comfort zone, and have to accommodate different voices on the streets, new faces in the shopping malls, new food in the supermarkets. No longer will the bus or train be filled with the comforting drone of people like us. The world that was once oceans away might now be just down the street, even on our doorsteps.
Instead of paying $5000 for a Women’s Weekly Round the World Tour we can have a global experience simply by walking down the street to the station.

Good value, many people might think, but apparently enough to cause fear and loathing for many others. We might happily pay the five thousand bucks to gaze at exotic people and exotic sights through the double glazed glass of our air-conditioned coach, but it seems we don’t necessarily want to be rubbing shoulders with a wide selection of the many and varied citizens of this wonderful world.

Avocados have a pretty high awareness factor, and not many people take their hamsters to school anyway, but Refugee Week deserves our time and energy.

Work to change the views of those around you, defend the voiceless, fight for the stateless, and become an advocate for generosity and change. 

Refugee week 2010 is June 20 to 26.

John Marsden