your face is illegal [refugees and asylum seekers]

I was having a tanty the other day when I heard a news-anchor* refer to the asylum seekers who are going to be housed in Northam as ‘illegal immigrants’ that turned into a rather heated debate.

The debate ended with me throwing up my hands in frustration and us agreeing to disagree.  I was pretty pissed off.

Mostly, I was unhappy with myself for not having the actual answer — even though I knew I was right, that asylum seekers are not illegal, the best I could do wasn’t much short of going, “YOUR MAMMA IS ILLEGAL”.

So much for 6 years of law school and reading lots of stuff.  [Peter Garrett must resign &c]

I thought I was going pretty well by arguing that there is no law that says “if you come to Australia without a visa you commit an offence and are a detestable criminal”, and there is totally a difference between being ‘illegal’ and being ‘unauthorised’.

My opposition countered that if you need to have a visa to be ‘authorised’, and come here without the visa, you are unauthorised and that’s basically illegal. Cause that’s not legal.

[Me: Your face isn’t legal].

The Libs continue to use “illegal boat arrival[z]” and I think that’s one of the most damaging things in the debate about asylum seekers at the moment: of course people [let’s not call them rednecks, &c] are going to worry that people we lock up behind razor wire are scary if every day they are insidiously referenced as being tantamount to criminals.

Please don’t get me started on when our Dear Leaders as well as saying it out say horrible, incorrect, mean-nasties out loud (you know, it’s so scary to have 1500 single men in one place. Like in a mining camp).

So I got on the path to truth and wisdom as soon as I could and reminded myself the following things, which I encourage you to remember and share with your friends and bring up when you’re having your own debates in your communities about this issue:

  • Asylum seekers are not migrants, who leave their country voluntarily (often a choice they make to seek economic gain on yonder shores).  Asylum seekers leave because they are forced to flee from their homeland for fear of persecution and cannot return due to that fear [ASRC];
  • Asylum seekers – regardless of how they arrive in Australia – are permitted under Australian and international law to enter Australia for the purpose of seeking asylum, therefore asylum seekers have not broken any law [RCOA];
  • All people have a fundamental human right to seek asylum from persecution [AHRC]; and
  • Australia is a signatory to the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, but successive governments have continually failed to fulfill Australia’s obligations under international law [AIA].

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre has an excellent Fact Sheet out that I also recommend that you read and share.

For those of you interested in something heavier about the debate between sovereignty (ie, deciding ‘who comes into our country and blah blah blah’) and the human right to seek asylum, there’s a great paper in the Australian Year Book of International Law entitled ‘Sovereignty and the Right to Seek Asylum: The Case of Cambodian Asylum-Seekers in Australia’ (written in 1994 – the  laws have changed a bit but the debate hasn’t at all) that is available on AustLII.

*It was 7 Perth on Sunday 7 Nov 2010. Boo-hiss.

2 thoughts on “your face is illegal [refugees and asylum seekers]

  1. As an aside, if foreign countries have laws forbidding people leaving the country to seek asylum (i.e. Sri Lanka – who is notably not a party to the Convention) then isn’t the media free to refer to those people as ‘illegal emigrants’?

    It seems that, yet again, the real issue here is annunciation.

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