Recently, two photos have challenged our perceptions of what an asylum seeker is. While we argued in this country about whether or not we should stop the boats or process offshore, these families felt safer on a barely seaworthy dinghy in the Mediteranean than they did in their homes. They travelled across the ocean, desperate to escape the escalating violence in the Middle East. One photo, taken in a moment of raw humaness, shows a moment of the agony a family has endured. The emotion is so evident on this father’s face, it was shared infinitely on social media. And one photos shows no emotion, not even a trace of life. Still, it went viral.
Something about these images is in stark contrast to the lines we are often fed about immigration and refugees. There was a commonality that threads all of us together that was so evident in those photos – the bonds that hold families together and those that exist between parents and their children are universal.
My position on the current refugee crisis is not popular. I do think we need to do something about people smuggling; not because the so called ‘boat people’ have thrown away their passports. Not because they pose a security threat, and not because we are unable to support a bigger population of potentially lower skilled or lesser educated workers.
I think we need to stop smuggling because there is a much better way to keep people that are escaping from war torn countries safe. I think we can do better than letting them get on dangerous boats to float for thousands of miles across stormy seas. I think that our border protection issues pale in comparison with the enormity of the refugee crisis in the Middle East. After the initial sadness of seeing both these images I felt angry. These are people who have already lost the lottery being born into war. Their children have already struggled more than I likely ever will. It seems so unjust that they survive such horrors only to be killed meaninglessly at sea.
And what angers me the most is that we are willing to go to battle to defend the victims of war, but we are unwilling to save them when that war displaces them.
There must be a better way.
We have a new Prime Minister today, and by all accounts one that is at least open to the idea of change. Perhaps even a Prime Minister that will stand for his vision rather than capitulating to party politics. It remains to be seen. The mark of his first few months for many voters will be in the way he approaches the economy, the climate change crisis and marriage equality. These are all issues that need attention, but right now more than that we need ideas.
Too long this has been seen as the realm of the US government. Their natural instinct to take the fight to the enemy is often questioned, but any lack of action is perceived as selfish and unfeeling. This is a global crisis and we need solutions from across the globe. We need leaders to be leaders.
So Mr Turnbull on your first day as PM I would ask you this: how do you think we can end at least some of the suffering? Should we really be treating this as a national issue instead of an international crisis requiring an international solution? Isn’t the truth that the boat is just the final piece of the puzzle?
I want to know your plan for the economy and for social progression. But first, I want to know that you can show some real leadership. Stopping the boats wasn’t enough to save Tony Abbott from the voter’s ire but I think you have more vision than that and I want to know exactly what it is. Because we cannot be the country that worries about marginal decreases to our lifestyle at the expense of millions drowning at sea. We are a more compassionate, innovative, intelligent country than that. We can be leaders in making change, if not as part of a military solution then as part of a diplomatic one.