What would Mary do? Tips from a hometown hero
Faced with the unexpected arrival of about 400 refugees in her town, I doubt she’d say “There goes the neighbourhood”.
She wouldn’t worry that the presence of asylum seekers would cause a dip in property prices, or complain that the kids (most of whom will be under five) will shoplift.
She wouldn’t argue that we should make male asylum seekers take the place of Australia’s own soldiers at war. And she wouldn’t say that we should demean refugees and make them suffer in order to deter more people from coming.
(From the gushing rhetoric around these past few weeks you might think she’d part the seas so the ramshackle vessels don’t sink, then teleport the inhabitants into a land of milk and honey.)
Hyperbole aside, it’s very difficult to reconcile the recent Mary-worship in Australia with the uncharitable sentiments that have spewed forth in the wake of the Federal Government’s shift on asylum seeker policy.
The Government very suddenly announced that the Adelaide Hills town of Inverbrackie would host one of the new “softcore” detention facilities. The nearby community immediately split on the issue.
Some people reflexively opened up. One woman gushed that she’d start a playgroup for the refugee children. The local mayor welcomed the cultural contribution the (mainly Afghani and Sri Lankan) asylum seekers would make. Many people were welcoming, even excited.
Then there were the gobsmacked people who knew they were upset, but weren’t sure why, so they blamed the suddenness of the whole thing. They’re floundering around talking about crumbling infrastructure.
Premier Mike Rann is in this group.
And then there those who use the phrase “these people”. As in “these people don’t fit in”. “These people don’t deserve those houses”.
“These people will entice more to follow”. “We don’t want these people here”. (This last group should be reassured that “these people” will still be locked up, most of the time.)
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen is implacable. This is happening, it’s a Federal decision and a Federal responsibility, and families will move into the Inverbrackie army barracks by Christmas.
From here it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
If the community does open its arms, start playgroups and welcome the addition to schools and sporting teams, workplaces and streetlife, this could be the start of a beautiful melding. We might even get a Sri Lankan or Afghani restaurant to mix up the existing pub-cheese-wine culture.
But if these traumatised people move into a town where someone has plastered signs up saying “no refugees” then this becomes an adversarial relationship. And that’s bound to lead to social problems, which artificially justifies the arguments that we shouldn’t have let them in in the first place.
There’s an unspoken (although clearly now spoken) rule that’s cropped up post-Vietnam. No matter how much you disagree with war, don’t denigrate the diggers. Attack the philosophy, the bigger picture, but don’t abuse the pawns of the broader scheme.
Let’s hope the playgroup faction wins out in the Hills. And let’s hope the anti-refugee campaigners have the decency to keep their arguments in the political sphere, and away from the innocent families whose lives are protected at the whim of our politicians.
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