Letter to the Editor. Published in The Age, Saturday 18 April 2009
Asylum seekers trying to reach Australia’s shores are desperate to escape persecution and violence in their home countries.
This year, there’s been a dramatic increase in violence in countries such as Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Sudan, that’s resulted in many deaths, and left hundreds of thousands of civilians cut off from food, water and health care. Most people don’t actually want to leave their homeland if they can avoid it. Evidence for this is that almost 5 million Afghans moved back to their homeland after decades living abroad as refugees, when it was safe to do so. These same people are now facing tough decisions as their country again becomes extremely insecure.
When addressing the issue of asylum seekers, we need to consider what is the right and decent thing for Australians to do when persecuted people arrive. But we also need to tackle the problem of conflict and poverty at its source. Australia can show leadership by providing aid and diplomatic interventions in many regional conflicts. This can help to make a real difference in the lives of these people so they don’t have to make the tough decision to flee their homes.
Andrew Hewett is the Executive Director of Oxfam Australia