Out of Sight, Out of Mind

When Germany opened its borders for 1 million refugees, Australia allowed 12 000 asylum seekers into the country. This is just a fraction compared to Merkel´s quota, especially when we look at the size and population. With 22 million inhabitants and a land of the size of North America, you would think it is more plausible that Australia would take in a few more. This, however, is not the case, at all. Australian immigration policies are complicated and make it very difficult for immigrants to enter or settle down. Yes, it is one of the most multicultural societies in the world, but that doesn’t mean it is very welcoming to strangers.

With 4 coastlines to protect, one of the most discussed issues for Australia is to hold back the illegal immigrants, coming from Indonesia by boat. These people are so desperate, they get on a tiny dingy and cross the Indian Ocean in the hope to find some luck in this sunburned country. Unfortunately, most of them get the status “unlaw-ful non-citizens and end up in a detention center where they are waiting to be deported. They will not be granted a visa and deportation can take up to a few years. The detention centers are known for being harsh and problematic. Over the last few years, riots have been taken place and asylum seekers have sewed their lips together as a form of protest. It is the uncertainty and desperation for these people what drives to anger.

The discussion about boat immigrants, as they are often called, played up after the Paris attacks. The question was if Australia was safe, and what would happen if they would allow more immigrants into the country. The majority of the population was afraid of a terrorist attack. People explained that it is “very likely” that something will happen because “you don’t know where the enemy is.” Paris was taken by the media and politicians as an example to show what could happen if a country takes up too many immigrants. It confirmed what the majority feared if Australia would take more refugees.

In the past, Australia hasn’t always been so neglecting to foreigners. In the 1970s, there was a completely different approach to refugees. The immigration minister back in 1976, Michael MacKellar said the following after the first boat of Vietnamese asylum seekers arrived in Darwin:
“As a matter for humanity, and in accord with international obligation freely entered into, Australia has accepted a responsibility to contribute towards the solution of world refugee problems.”
Promises were made to use the “full resources” for current and future refugees, because of “moral rightness”.

What has changed over the years and how did it changed? Media nowadays, uses phrases such as “potential terrorists”, “job-takers” and “illegals”. The promised “full resources” turned out to be detention centers which I have briefly mentioned above and the Australian Border Force, which aims to protect and control the movement of people and goods across the border. Why is Australia nowadays so neglecting towards asylum seekers?

It is a tricky question and a complex answer.

One thing is clear: Australia has changed as has their way of thinking and talking about aslyumn seekers. Immigrants are not regarded as victims of war or traumatic events, rather they are considered as persons who come here to work. By changing the way of discussion in public, it is changing the view on the subject. Another example is the phrase “how to stop the boats” instead of helping people. The detention centers are build out of vision of the Australian citizen. This creates the thought: “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Recently I have talked to a local named Jack about this topic. He stated that humanity should be ashamed of itself of what is happening in the world with the massive stream of immigrants. His argument was explained in a long speech and contradicted himself by concluding that Australia does not want more immigrants. “We are accepting more than enough refugees already. We don’t want them here, they can go somewhere else.” So if the world should be ashamed of himself, should Australia be too? Would it not be a better idea to help those people instead of putting them away? Jack sighted and looked annoyed. “Look, we probably could do more but we don’t want to. We have our own problems to take care of.Australia could do more, yes that is true, but does it want to? As far as I can see, no. Perhaps some issues are, indeed, too far out of sight to be kept in mind.

© Brian Megens

Samina Ansari, a Woman With a Mission

Samina Ansari is a 24-year-old Globalisation & Law Masters student at Maastricht University. Currently, she is in Kabul where she is a legal trainee at The Asia Foundation. Before she left for Afghanistan, we did an interview with her about her life, activities, and interest in women and refugee rights.

© Brian Megens

Samina Ansari

Interview & Text: Karissa Atienza
Interview & Photography: Brian Megens

Who is Samina?
My name is Samina Ansari, I am 24 years old and currently studying the Master Globalisation & Law at Maastricht University. I was born in Afghanistan but my family moved to Pakistan during the Taliban War in 1995. We lived in Peshawar for five years which was, and remains, the largest populated city by Afghan refugees. When the conflict in Afghanistan became much, much worse we realised that the Taliban was there to stay so we migrated to Norway for a better life.

I have a degree in Cyber Security Law from the University of Oslo, Faculty of Law. It’s a very new area but a very valuable one. Technology is always faster than law; law comes often when something has already happened so mixing technology and law is very interesting. After that, I did internships with the UN for a full year and then I came here.

How did you end up in Maastricht?
It was partly by choice, and partly a coincidence. I wanted to study international law, not only focusing on state interaction but also on organisations and corporations and how they interact with each other in a globalised world. They have a very good programme here in Maastricht, the Globalisation Law master. But studying international law is a bit depressing because it’s an instrument without teeth.Then again, international law is about principles and values of fundamental rights given to individuals and states. It is something that is often forgotten by the international community.

Why the interest in human rights?
I come from a family with a number of children. We all care about Afghanistan deeply. Not only because our roots are there, but also because we brought Afghanistan with us to Norway. We often talk about the issues and conflict there. It wasn’t only about state intervention or geopolitics. It’s often rooted back to human right violations. My mother was an amazing role model to all of us. She did her entire schooling all over again in Norway. Working on human rights is often helping the secondary. In Afghanistan and also other parts of the world, women are seen as the secondary. My mother, however, a woman with dignity, had achieved a lot by starting all over again and succeeding in many ways. She manifests human being’s true value, that became my main inspiration. Women are capable of what men are capable of as long as they are given the platform. Sometimes women are capable of even more!

Why refugees?
First of all, I was a refugee myself in Pakistan. In Norway, we became migrants but I could still feel the tension of always being the girl that came from overseas. Norwegians were warm with me and my family but seemed uninformed. Why are you here when you’re born in a different country? I felt that in my first years in Norway. I have this feeling of commonness with refugees, that I have felt it before and know other people might feel as well. Being a refugee is hard enough but sometimes refugees suffer multiple layers of violations, like being a woman or a child suffering from human rights abuses in the process of being a refugee. We have to help these people. From a globalised perspective, I think history has proven that the world is united so either we help them now or we don’t, but suffer with them at a later point. Why hide the cat in the hat and pretend it is not there?

What do you do?

Apart from writing blog posts about the refugee crisis, I am also a part of a group of students who are working on opening a refugee law clinic at the Law Faculty. I’m also working closely with a student refugee that has an organisation called Not Just a Number. What he’s focusing on is educating the Dutch people on what it is to be a refugee. I also recently did a fundraising lunch at the Soup Solo. We raised money for women at the Zaatari refugee camp, which is the largest refugee camp in Jordan. It was for the HeforShe campaign. We raised a little bit over €425,- to provide 50 women skills training within the Zaatari camp to fight violence against women inside the camp. It also gives them a reason to get out of their tent and participate in the community.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
I think Norway, actually. It’s all about the platform you are a part of. You can still be an individual, but being part of a good platform makes you a stronger individual. Having Norway as a platform can be a great privilege in helping others. I will continue working on women’s empowerment and refugee-related issues. I want to continue reaching out where I can and I believe anyone can reach out, wherever they are, no excuses.

Do you feel Afghan?
I get this question a lot. Even though I have bits and pieces of my heart here and there I don’t belong to any country. I am just Samina.

After the interview:
Samina recently took a trip to Tel-Aviv and Jerusalem where she met with the human rights clinic at Tel-Aviv University to learn from their refugee-related research. One of the issues she learned was that Israeli territories are facing the humanitarian crisis as much as the rest of the world. The refugees they are faced with are Africans fleeing from the Ethiopian and Eritrean conflict. Many of the Eritrean refugees are being deported to a third country that is not their native country. The International Organization for Immigration (IOM) has heavily criticized these deportations, according to the United Nations refugee convention, asylum seekers cannot be sent to any country unless there is an agreement with that country that safeguards their rights and welfare. Currently, Samina is in Kabul, Afghanistan where she is a legal trainee at The Asia Foundation. Working with refugee issues is very close to her heart, and she is seeking a more sustainable solution to this crisis.

“Making the home countries of these refugees safer is the way to go, no one wants to leave their home unless they have to”

She is working on improving the rule of law through legal education in Afghanistan, both areas in the country need more attention.

“I am still a student, and I am learning every day. Afghanistan is a great teacher on many of the issues the international community is faced with today”