The Crisis in Syria and what Australia Isn’t Doing

It’s the image that made every mother and father’s heart sink.  It’s the image that made the world pause.  It’s the image that hasn’t left me since I saw it.

The image is of a small Syrian boy lying on a beach, lifeless.

It is the first time I have ever been exposed to something so real and so graphic.  My grandmother was nearly 80 when she died in her hospital bed surrounded by family. This little boy was torn from his father by thrashing waves.  He couldn’t swim.  He died with no one holding him.

He drowned as a 3 year old boy.

This little boy was travelling from Turkey to Greece after fleeing Syria which is currently being torn apart by a Civil War, labelled as “the worst humanitarian disaster of our time.” Currently, as a result of this war, over 11 million people have been internally displaced meaning they have fled their homes but remain in their home country’s borders.  This is the equivalent of every person in Victoria and New South Wales fleeing their homes.  I want you to picture the MCG.  Full to capacity of 100,000 people.  Then times that by 110.

That’s the volume we are talking about here.

So where are these people fleeing to? To the right of Syria is Iraq.  Iraq has been plagued by war, corruption and conflict for decades.  It is still attempting to rebuild itself after America’s invasion in 2003. So that’s on Syria’s right.

On the left is Lebanon which has experienced years of tension, conflict and all-out war.  In the Second Lebanon War of 2006 the death toll numbered in the thousands.

Above Syria is Turkey.  The gateway to Europe. To Europe where there is peace and the prospect of a better life for your daughter or your son.

Where do these poor people go? Fathers and mothers with their children? The elderly with their carers? They will go wherever they can.  1 in 5 people in Lebanon is currently a Syrian refugee.

In Syria over 220,000 people have been reported killed already with over half -estimated to be civilians. That’s the MCG full to capacity twice over. Every single person decimated.

I decided to look into how Australia stacks up against the rest of the world. Which countries are providing refuge to these displaced men, women and children?.

Jordan, the nation below Syria, welcomes the most refugees per head of population.  72.9 refugees per thousand.  Jordan is an upper-middle income economy.  I scrolled to see where Australia was on that list.  I scrolled.  And I scrolled.  And I kept scrolling.  We take 1 refugee per thousand.  Australia is an advanced economy.

In terms of refugee intake, Pakistan leads the way, taking approximately 1.6 million refugees per annum. Australia barely takes 30,000.  We are double the size of Pakistan.

Germany welcomes approximately 600,000 refugees to our 30,000.  Germany is one twenthieth of Australia’s size.  They trump our intake 20 times over.

I read somewhere that Australia is a global leader in refugee resettlement.  Confused, I looked it up. Australia is in the top 3 for resettlement. Except only 27 countries have resettlement programs and the Australian government has the power to pick and choose who gets a visa.  They can decide who resettles.

Resettlement applications can take over 9 months to be processed and that’s if the applications are filled out correctly.

So this entire program of resettlement is predicated on one false assumption.  That these people have time. And when you’re fleeing for your life that’s the one thing you don’t have.

I then wondered how many migrants Australia takes every year so I consulted Professor Google.

And what do you know?

Australia’s migration intake is 30 times the refugee intake per annum.  Australia welcomed approximately 180,000 migrants between 2011-12 and only 6,000 refugees. 15% of migrants came from the UK alone.

I realised whilst writing this today how fortunate I really am.  I was born into a middle class family.  I have had access to education my entire life and I was born white.

My whiteness and my freedom have been gifted to me.  I have not had to work for them. I was just born with them.  And that fact alone could allow me to jump the queue to live in a country for my own personal gain rather than my need for safety.

It’s time to tap into our humanity, shelve the greed and the fear and do what’s right. Finally.

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