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Closing the doors on the lucky country

I am a first-generation Australian. My parents arrived in this country nearly forty years ago, seeking better opportunities for the future. I was born in a small country town in regional New South Wales, and I had the great fortune to grow up in a safe, welcoming environment, free from many of the anxieties and insecurities that plague much of the Western World as well as the terrifying dangers and tensions rife in many developing countries. I am very lucky to be where I am today, and much of that has come from where and when I was born. My parents have worked tirelessly each and every single day since they arrived to create the best possible environment for me and my younger brother and sister. They started from nothing and with nothing.

I have had the privilege of attending prestigious universities, living in one of the world's most naturally beautiful cities, and meeting and working with incredible people from all around the world. Australia is a highly advanced, politically stable, secure, prosperous, and blessed country - and we are far luckier for it than billions around the world. I love living here, and after a year spent in the United States and countless travels across Asia and Europe, I can't imagine wanting to settle any where else.

Image from  \- 21st July 2013

It's taken me a few days to figure out exactly what chills me about the Australian Government's new immigration policy, where asylum seekers arriving on boats without visas will be unilaterally barred from our shores. It's deeper than dismay at the lurch to the right, the disgustingly insular rhetoric printed in the media, or the scathingly predictable three-word slogans emanating from the politicians. I felt that something else, something more important was wrong. And what it boils down to is this.

Will people like me be welcome in Australia in the years to come?

We are a country of immigrants. Every single one of us, European, American, Asian, African, Middle-Eastern, Latino or Pacific Islander. In fact, I'd wager that a huge proportion of the population has some ancestor who arrived here on a boat and probably without a visa. Yet, year by year, we seem to be growing increasingly hostile to those who've come across the sea to share in our boundless plains. Now, I have experienced racism; seen the ugly scrawls of GO HOME on the windows of my parent's shop and endured the judgmental banalities of the misinformed. I have seen the effects of this on those I care about. I had thought that these were the bad eggs at the fringes of our society - the natural result of growing up as a token minority in an overwhelming Anglo-Saxon community. The vast majority of the people I know share my views. But the immigration policies of our two mainstream political parties suggests that I must have a very narrow circle indeed. 

Now, any asylum seeker who comes to Australia by boat without a visa will be forcibly resettled in Papua New Guinea, a country with myriad social, political, and economic troubles. It is more extreme than any immigration policy we have had since the dissolution of the White Australia Policy some 40 years ago. The very notion that one must be pre-approved and issued credentials to seek asylum is laughable considering the circumstances that drive most to seek asylum in the first place. The very notion that it is possible to "stop the boats", to stop people from escaping horrifying situations is laughable. The very notion that the greatest threat to this country is incoming boat arrivals is laughable. But what isn't laughable is what these attitudes say about us as a people, and for that I am deeply ashamed.

Xenophobia is rising across the world, and that is truly saddening. It's pushing governments to undertake ever more draconian measures in the name of satisfying the people. The fear of the different, the exotic, the not-the-same is really what hurts. Countries teeter on the edge of civil and international wars brought on by deep-set prejudices - and in response those countries further embrace those prejudices. It is a circuit that has no end - one that we as a world has pledged time and time again to step away from.

Given different circumstances, it could easily be me on one of those boats, floating towards an uncertain tomorrow but away from a catastrophic today. It could be an innumerable number of my friends, most of whom are also recent-generation Australians. Is this what the majority of Australians think of people like us? Is this sense of entitlement - to a country forcibly wrested from its original inhabitants no less - is this the new norm for our society?

We are an embarrassingly fortunate people. And in a world where such fortune is rare, it is our responsibility to do our part to help those without such luck. It is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia. It should be illegal for us to turn away from helping those in need.

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