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.

Willing Working On an Organic Farm

Whether you have just finished your high school, Bachelor or Master, you might start to think about taking a gap year. Australia is one of the countries which offers a one year Working Holiday Visa (WHV). The visa allows you to work and travel for a year, throughout the country. It is a great way to experience its culture, cruise around and earn a bit of money. If one year is not enough, you can apply for a second WHV. However, you need to fit certain requirements. One of them is that you need to have done your 3 months specified work – also known as “the 88 days”.

The 88 days of specified work is explained in Document 1263, which you can find on the Australian immigration website. It tells what kind of work is elidigble and in which region. For example, work in hospitality, in all states, does not count, but picking apples in Tasmania does. It does not matter if you work two weeks here, one month there and another one and a half month somewhere else, as long your employer signs your days off. In any case, it is improtant that you are up to date with the visa regulations and restrictions. There are major consequenses if you fraud your days such as being refused at the boarder or paying a high fine.

So what work is elidigble and what not? Not everything is clearly stated in the Document and it can be utterly frustrating and confusting. The best way to find out is to ask your boss before you start the job or to call the immigration line.

Most jobs which count are positions on cattle stations, mining, fruit picking and pearling. The specified work is not always fun and I would not like to pick mangoes ever again. But everyone has his own favourite and it all depends on where you end up and you want to do or learn.
If you do not like the idea of working long hours for minimum pay in the hot sun with the eyes of an angry manager piercing in your back, than there is something like WWOOFing.

WWOOF stands for Willing Working On an Organic Farm. It means you are volunteering four to six hours on an organic farm in exchange for food and accomodation. To goal is to learn something about farming, the culture and country you are visiting. It is an international organization and even Holland has a department.
WWOOFing jobs can variate from feeding wildlife, planting and harvesting crops to tree planting or conservation work. Part from the learning factor, you will meet people with the same intension – namely, to help and learn – as you and a much friendlier boss who will not scream at you when you accidently put the compost on the zucchini plants instead of the tomatoes. To put in short: the atmosphere and vibe are much better. Plus, you will end up in the most ridiculious places.

Personally, I was lucky enough to learn how to make cheese and herd sheep for two months in Tasmania. How many people can say that they have milked sheep and led them from paddock to paddock? At the moment of writing, I am WWOOFing at a butterfly farm in the Nothern Territory. Every day, I have to catch butterflies, harvest lettuce and tomatoes for the kitchen, maintain the vegetable garden and feed a trizillion of bunny rabbits, chickens, goats and geese.

But there is a problem with the WWOOFing system as well. Many places do not have a register or precise overview of who is staying or going. Owners sign of more days than WWOOFers were actually there and some farms do not treat their volunteers that well. That is why the Australian gournement decided that WWOOFing will not be eligible for the 88 days anymore. WWOOFing has to become paid work.

Is that a problem? I believe so. First of all, the intention of WWOOFing falls away. WWOOFing is volunteering, the persons are in general more mature and care more about what they are doing. A majority of the persons with who I worked told me they like WWOOFing because of the unique experience and the oppertunity to learn something. Above all, it feels good to help someone, especially when you start to see what needs to be done.
Second, many family businesses rely on WWOOFers as they are a cheap way to replace workers. It is not all about the money, that is true. For them WWOOFing is often a liftestyle. They have been working with WWOOFers for years. Their idea is that, every person has its own skills and that is what makes WWOOFing work. One is good in gardnening, the other in cleaning and guys are very helpful when it comes to construction. All these little pieces make one big puzzle.

I cannot more agree with this vision and I truly hope the gouverment changes her mind.

As for now, I keep enjoying my butterfly catching and picking tomatoes.