Legally Ranting

The irrationality of Xenophobia

Posted in Boat People, Human Rights, Law School by legalrants on August 27, 2010

So far, this semester of law school has been really interesting and wildly different from last semester. It’s true when people say how much you get is how much you put in. It’s certainly the case with law school. At any given time, there is a plethora of activities going on, from basic mooting to UN debates, and negotiation/arbitration competitions to climate change advocacy discussions. Sometimes, there’s so much going on, that you are tempted to take a backseat just so that you can suck it all in and ponder about what to actually take part in!

Anyway, this semester, I took a very last minute decision to elect a unit in International Humanitarian Law, or IHL, as it is so affectionately known as. So far, it has been a thoroughly engaging ride and I find myself always yearning for more information.  For some reason or another, I find myself silently campaigning against the rights of the minority, the weak, the oppressed and the disadvantaged.

This post has nothing to do with International Law or IHL, but I just felt the need to rant about xenophobia, or the distasteful connotations it purports. In Australia, the most apparent form of xenophobia is that against recent immigrants, and specifically towards the ‘boat people’.

Personally, I find the term ‘boat people’ derogatory. It conjures up images of hungry, poor and destitute refugees arriving in a cramped and crowded little boat on Australian shores (or whatever off-shore processing centre that the Federal government operates). Frankly, the most frightening aspect of this depiction is that it may actually be true. Whatever it is, such depictions weakens the public’s opinion that these refugees should be entitled to some form of relief — be it asylum visas or otherwise.

I’m not advocating lofty ideals of Australia opening its arms in accepting every single refugee that comes onto its shores. But I feel that, Australia, as a citizen of First World Nations, should not refrain from doing its part in alleviating the plight of those suffering under harsh regimes and civil wars. I applaud the Australian Labour Party (ALP) for its efforts, though it certainly could more. For that matter, I would like to add that the WORST POSSIBLE MISTAKE Australia can make is to appoint Tony Abbot and his Coalition to govern Australia. Tony Abbot’s policy of unequivocally turning boat people propogates a dangerous message to the country and the world as a whole. For this, and other reasons which are out of the scope of this blog entry, I do not consider him fit to be a Prime Minister.

Strangely, I can see why xenophobia against migrants exists and is potentially thorny issue with minority of white Australians. Here in Perth, there is a significant percentage of Asians living here (like myself), though not all recent migrants. Perhaps, the white Australians feel like human beings of Asian descent offend certain sensibilities of the white culture, but most likely, they simply fear that their (white Australian’s) livelihoods are being threatened. No doubt they are legitimate concerns.

However, what I find strange and irrational is that, these xenophobics do not consider the reality that they themselves were migrants from the past. Mind you, Australia as an independent nation only existed as of 1901, though it had been subject to British colonisation for years prior. More significantly, the native Aboriginals who are widely regarded as occupying the lowest level in the contemporary Australian society, were custodians of the land for thousand of years before the arrival of the first white person.  So my question is: where does the basis of xenophobia really come from?

Recently I chanced upon an Australian online forum that advocated the Australian identity. Curious as I was, I peered into it and was categorically disgusted. The administrators of the forum openly declared that the forum was only for “promoting the interests of white Australians”. Terms such as “asiaganisation” were derogatorily used as well as open suggestions to make boat people as target practice.  The forum advocated support for the Australia Protectionist Party, which is seeking to be registered as a political party. One of their goals is to stop net migration and only “source” for migrants from “traditional sources” like Britain and other European countries.

Perhaps, the true basis of xenophobia is the selfish fear of the effects of progress and open-mindedness. Australians, like all other developed countries, crave the benefits of global connectivity and reap the benefits of globalisation. I’m sure xenophobics are no exception. Yet, they are contended with shutting their doors and distributing the spoils among themselves exclusively. Australia’s economy is hugely dependent on resource exports to China, yet these xenophobics unilaterally urge “buy Australian”.

Perhaps it is just the “red-necks” of Australia that are promulgating these concepts. In law school, I’ve yet to meet a white Australian with outwardly self-containing or racists and discriminatory tendencies. Indeed, many share a strong sense of justice towards the weak, poor, oppressed and disadvantaged. I’m glad that THESE are the people who would lead the country into the future.