10 things you can do about asylum seekers

Tonight I watched the third and last of the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From, and it really should be compulsory viewing for everyone. The twitters have been groaning under the weight of people who have been moved to tears to see what it’s really like for those who have no other choice but to leave (or be forcibly removed from) their own country to try to seek refuge in countries like Australia.

It was heart-breaking to watch, but also inspiring and galvanising. Yes, it’s a huge complex dirty confronting problem, but we can all take responsibility and be part of the solution. And I couldn’t let the show just wash over me without seriously thinking about what I could do about it. And what we can all do about it.

So, here are 10 things to do, to try to improve the situation for those who put their hope in this great country that we take so often for granted:

1. Learn more about the issue

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of huff and puff going on when it comes to issues dealing with asylum seekers, and just like climate change, there’s folks out there who want to politicise and thump podiums rather than really help. Seriously, the facts are easy to find and easy to understand. Facts like: ‘boat people’ make up only 2% of Australia’s annual immigration. And none of them have been terrorists.

Wouldn’t you rather know the facts? Here’s some links for starters:

2. Walk in their shoes

Step away from the newspapers, the radio shock jocks and red-wine rationalisers, and witness real stories of real people and what they’ve gone through in their journeys as asylum seekers. These stories are only online and would never replace face-to-face encounters, but nevertheless: watch, read and listen. Park your initial reactions to judge and/or fix the issue, and just feel the weight of what they say.

3. Donate

The truth is that real assistance and change takes large amounts of time, energy, skills, management and cash. And you have at least one of those things that you could share. Here are some very worthy organisations to start with, who could really put your coffee money to great use:

4. Get out and shout

There’s any number of events going on at any given time that you could step away from the screen and be a part of, and they’re not all angry-mob shouty gatherings, either. Although if you’re into that, consider the rally to free refugees, Sunday 24th July at noon, Gurney Rd, Villawood, Sydney.

After all, it’s actually World Refugee Week at the moment: Sunday 19 – Saturday 25 June 2011.

5. Stay informed

You could get all the latest information about this important issue from your next cabbie or this guy, or you could do something like this:

6. Bug the politicians

Bugging politicians does work – it’s kind of our job as citizens, really – and here’s what you can do if care enough to click Send:

  • Write to your local member about specific issues – like mandatory detention, or the Malaysia ‘swap’, or a particular detention centre’s poor track record – rather than just a general whinge, and ask them (1) what is their position on the issue, and (2) what they intend to do about it. Who’s your local member? Go to the source on the Parliament of Australia website, or Google “local member” plus your postcode.
  • Tweet @JuliaGillard and @AustralianLabor, ask them questions, demand action… just be a squeaky hinge in 140 characters or less (actually less is good of you want to be re-tweeted)
  • Tell your local member to end indefinite detention of asylum seekers via Amnesty International. Seriously, it’s not illegal to seek asylum – even if arriving by boat. It’s simply not necessary to lock these people up.

7. Send a message of solidarity to someone in detention

Did you know you can actually email a message of hope, goodwill and genuine human care to people in detention? Just go to: http://www.rethinkrefugees.com.au/show-your-support/. Amnesty International will collect these messages of support and pass them on to the many people in processing centres. Any message of encouragement is warmly received. You can also read what other people are sending.

8. Volunteer your time and talents

It’s good to know you don’t have to go it alone. You can link up with many great organisations to donate your time and talents, and be a part of something bigger:

  • Become a member of the Refugee Council of Australia, and get involved in their work of research, policy development and advocacy on refugee issues
  • Check out the Refugee Advocacy Network, which is actually a collection of like-minded action groups
  • Why not take it up a notch or two: volunteer to help resettled refugees in your area practice English
  • If you really want to go for it, volunteer to work overseas in a refugee camp and/or refugee family location program

9. Talk about it

Finally, just talk about it. One of the things we have in this country that’s so often touted as being so great, and so different to many countries in the world is free speech.

Talk to your friends, family and co-workers about these issues. Share it in your Facebook status. Tweet. Email. Put your opinions out there. And if you feel a bit awkward, like that couple trying to have a conversation in Monty Python’s Flying Circus, you can always email Amnesty and they’ll even send you a free starter guide: rethinkrefugees@amnesty.org.au.

Who knows, the facts and empathy you share can help to breakdown stereotypes in people’s minds, bust common myths, and provoke others to think, re-think and react. In the words of this Oxfam blog:
“Make sure you consume news media with a critical eye to differentiate fact from opinion”.

Set yourself the challenge

OK, you got me – that’s only 9 things. Not 10. Let’s just say the tenth is up to you to come up with.

I’m setting myself the challenge of doing at least five of these things, starting this week. I don’t know about volunteering overseas, but I’ll work my way up to something past the dinner party conversation.

What are you doing at the moment? What have you tried, and how successful did you find it to be? What would you want to try as a challenge?

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