Causes Of Australian Refugees And Asylum Seekers

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We often hear that Australia is the “lucky country” — a nation where our most attractive asset is our diverse community and multicultural society. Ironically, it is the second verse of our national anthem, which promises to share our boundless plains with those who come across the sea, that we habitually ignore and frequently fail to sing. Perhaps this reveals the true attitude Australia has towards refugees and asylum seekers.

Despite enduring immense hardships throughout their voyages to Australia, it was the negative public sentiment, harnessed by the Australian population, that caused the most adversity for Vietnamese refugees between 1975 and 1985. Fears of countless numbers of Vietnamese “invading” Australia, commonly referred to as the “yellow peril”, were invoked by proponents of the White Australia policy as a justification for the “you’re either with us or against us” approach to a vision of a white Australia. Hence, even as the White Australia policy was being informally relaxed, federal policies expected migrants and refugees to avoid displaying cultural and linguistic differences, thereby actively encouraging a homogenising force of White Australia. Thus, Vietnamese refugees were mostly treated with hostility within the Australian population, with many fearing that the Vietnamese community would not enculturate and conform to the established Australian customs and ideologies. This notion was reiterated by news polls conducted during the period, which showed that “the majority surveyed felt that the number of immigrants arriving in Australia was too high.” Consequently, the late 1970s and early 1980s were characterised by a prominent level of ethnocentrism, as overwhelmingly negative attitudes towards refugees began to surface.

In responding to the Vietnamese refugee crisis, the Australian government was resistant, ambivalent and at times pragmatic. The story, reinforced by the media, that Vietnamese refugees were welcomed with open arms is an enticing narrative, tempting us to believe that this country has demonstrated a willingness to treat asylum seekers humanely and with compassion. However, the reality is that Australia has rarely had a humane refugee policy. By the end of 1977, 2½ years

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