Secondary Students for Refugee Rights is a youth activist group campaigning for refugee and asylum seeker rights in Australia. We aim to not only raise awareness of current issues regarding refugees amongst high school students, but to also provide the chance for them to become involved. SSFRR was created subsequent to Kevin Rudd’s announcement of Labor’s Papua New Guinea solution, the atrocious policy that signaled the beginning of the “race to the bottom” for refugee rights.
Two students from Secondary Students for Refugee Right, Caitlin and Lucy spoke at RAC’s recent Live Wire for Refugees event, this is the text of their speech:
Why students should fight
In the lead-up to this election, the major parties have displayed a level maturity that would not be uncommon in a schoolyard popularity contest, but has NO place in Australian or International Politics. Not only is this embarrassing to see, for us it is exasperating because we have no control over it. For the majority of high school students, it is infuriating to sit back and watch our politicians represent us when we have no voice as we’re ineligible to vote.
At school, we are surrounded by students who are equally as disgusted by what they see, whose voices also cannot be heard. And yet, I recognise that this is nothing compared to what those in detention must be feeling. Just take a moment to imagine how much more frustrated asylum seekers must feel, their futures, safety and happiness being decided by people who have displayed that they really couldn’t care less.
We as students are at least fortunate enough to have the liberty to take to the streets and shout when it counts. IT IS THEREFORE OUR DUTY TO NOT ONLY SPEAK UP FOR OURSELVES BUT FOR ASYLUM SEEKERS TOO.
Shocking options from both political parties
For those voting, however, there are simply no options. Whichever party wins, refugees are guaranteed to lose. In the wake of the announcement of Rudd’s inhumane PNG deal, Abbott said of his own hard-lined stance “The essential point is, this is our country and we determine who comes here” a statement disturbingly evocative of John Howard’s “we decide who comes into this country and the circumstances under which they come”. Indeed, the current approach to the refugee issue is incredibly reminiscent of the Howard era, which, may I remind you, resulted in racist scandals, like the children overboard affair. I personally find this approach bigoted. I find it cowardly. Tony Abbott, however, praises Scott Morrison, his immigration spokesman on his “tremendous strength” and “touch of compassion”
Our generation is one that has been taught to reject racism and accept all human beings as equals more so than any other generation before us. Our being denied the vote leaves us feeling so infuriated as we are forced to take the backseat and watch on in horror as suited people in parliament of previous generations, make decisions that they foolishly believe are relevant now. What is even more disturbing however, is the fierce competition that has developed between the government and the coalition, this is essentially a “race to the bottom” built on speculation and fear mongering.
The tactic of fear mongering to the Australian public by our politicians is perhaps the most infuriating thing to watch. Time and time again we hear them pandering to the people, playing the race card to create an “us and them” divide. Whilst it appears obvious that what the Australian public needs is simply to be educated, the politicians continue to insinuate that the boats must be stopped and refugees are a threat.
We all remember Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison’s comments earlier in the year where he suggested that warnings be issued to police and community members when as asylum seeker is to be living in the area. Morrison’s comments played along with the ALP and the Coalition’s tactic of fear mongering to win votes. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to issue warnings when politicians come into the community and effectively insight racial hatred for the purpose getting ahead in the polls.
Isn’t it a shame that rather than trying to alleviate negative public speculation about asylum seekers, all our politicians do is exacerbate it? Anybody who has met an asylum seeker will tell you there is nothing to fear, just the opposite in fact. These people are warm, friendly, decent human beings, and meeting them proves the saying that the saying that the best way to overcome prejudice is to inform. Our government needs to stop pandering to racist sentiment and lead by example.
The thing is, every day we are surrounded by posters (some of them government issued) and advertisements telling us NOT to be racist and to STOP bullying and yet LOOK at the example the government are setting. They are neglecting and alienating some of the world’s most vulnerable peoples. Both the Papua New Guinea solution and Abbott’s proposed towing of the boats are unnecessarily harsh approaches to the issue and are furthermore extremely insulting to all of the foreign peoples involved. What’s more, they are spending more on such policies than education! Can you imagine? Australia is financially able to put money into a struggling public school system and yet they insist on spending billions of dollars on the detainment of innocent people.
SEEKING ASYLUM IS A HUMAN RIGHT. It is imperative that our politicians see reason. They have taken a stand with no compassion, and it is up to us to make them realise that asylum seekers are human beings too. Playing politics with human lives is not acceptable . When Kevin Rudd was appointed leader of the Labor Party back in 2005, he said; “Compassion is not a dirty word. Compassion is not a sign of weakness. In my view, compassion in politics and in public policy is in fact a hallmark of great strength. It is a hallmark of a society which has about it a decency which speaks for itself.” So we ask ourselves, Where’s Rudd’s compassion now? It’s been destroyed by power and desperation and sent off to Manus to fester.
SSFRR intends to destroy the idea that the voices of young people are irrelevant and ignorant. We refuse to accept the stigma that young people are too ill-informed and under-educated to fully understand what it is we are fighting for. Too often has it been said that we have been brainwashed by our parents’ political ideals or that we’re “too young to understand the full story.”
Take a look around the world, from the Soweto student movement in South Africa which saw 20,000 high school students resist the introduction of Afrikaans into the local schooling system, to Australian students fighting the conscription of Australian soldiers to Vietnam. There is plenty of evidence to support the claim that STUDENT MOVEMENTS CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE. Age does not equal wisdom
This fight, however, is only just beginning and we need all the strength we can muster to win it. Despite the fact that the PNG solution is already collapsing, the subsequent alternative is even more dire. About 1200 asylum seekers are now being detained in Christmas Island detention centre, a facility designed with a capacity of only 1000 people. Pregnant women are now being separated from their families. It is a place where self-harm, depression and suicide manifests, even in children. One man last year reported to an Amnesty visitor that it was “like a cemetery for those who are barely still alive.”
We cannot allow such atrocities to continue. We will not allow this to happen under our name. That is why we are asking…
Power hungry politicians will not change their policies unless it is what they feel the people want. This is why it is important to get out there and campaign. The government will not change their policies unless a loud and clear majority demand they do so. We have that power and it is our duty to make sure our power is effective. Together, WE CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.