Thursday, March 10, 2016

Let them in

Australian is a multicultural nation made up of immigrants. Currently, about seven million out of 24 million Australians were born overseas; this translates to 30 per cent of the population. The number of Aussies either born overseas or who have at least one parent born overseas is probably another 5 million. The closest country to Australia’s immigrant mix is perhaps Canada where 20 per cent of locals were born abroad. New Zealand too is a truly multicultural nation with 28 per cent born overseas. The proportion of Americans born abroad is 13 per cent. This proportion in Britain is 12 per cent. In Germany it is 8 per cent.

Australia’s largest immigrant groups includes Anglos from Britain and New Zealand but then there are the Chinese, Indians, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Italians and Malaysians. The number of Greeks have dropped off and rank below Germans in terms of foreign-born residents.

Australia’s largest city, Sydney with close to five million residents is a multicultural melting pot with 42 per cent of the population born overseas. This proportion in Melbourne is 37 per cent; in Brisbane it is 30 per cent; in Anglo Perth it is 41 per cent. The American city of a similar or larger population base with the highest proportion of foreign-born residents is (Cuban) Miami, which sits at 39 per cent. This proportion for New York is 29 per cent. For London it is 36 per cent; for Paris it is 22 per cent; for Berlin it is 13 per cent. In mid-west and deep south cities like Pittsburg, St Louis, and Birmingham, Alabama, this proportion rarely rises above 4 per cent. In Wollongong this proportion is 25 per cent. Go to the great Australian wheat-belt and consider the demographic composition of places like Horsham (pop 16,000) in the Victorian Wimmera. A whitebread community, you may think. And yet 11 per cent of Horsham’s population was born overseas. In both Grafton (pop 18,000) and Dubbo (pop 34,000) 10 per cent of the local population was born overseas.

So with a very successful record of integration of immigrants and ample space for more, why turn back refugees? The appalling conditions inside Australia's detention centers on Nauru and Papua New Guinea's Manus Island, and the deteriorating mental health of many of the people held there, are well documented and have drawn scathing criticism. Some human rights organizations accuse the government of breaching international laws. A UN report found detainees were being held in "cruel," "inhuman" and "degrading" conditions, and even Australian lawmakers said conditions on Nauru were not "appropriate or safe" for detainees.

"I saw a 6-year-old girl who tried to hang herself with a fence tie and had marks around her neck. I've never seen a child self-harm of that age before," pediatrician Dr. David Isaacs, who worked on Nauru, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation last year. "It's child abuse. Putting children in detention is child abuse. So, our government is abusing children in our name.”

Australia spent £29 million on a deal with Cambodia to accept its refugees but the scheme has been labelled an “expensive joke” after just two people took up the offer to relocate. The four-year deal, signed in 2014, was designed to resettle hundreds of refugees who have been transferred by Australia to the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru. Australia’s immigration officials have made repeated attempts to persuade the refugees of the merits of moving to Cambodia – one of the world’s poorest nations – but only five people agreed to resettle there. It has now emerged that three of the five – a Burmese man and an Iranian couple – have returned to their homelands. Peter Dutton, the immigration minister, previously rejected an offer from New Zealand to take 150 refugees from Nauru, saying this would encourage people smugglers, referred to the resettlement of just two refugees at about £15 million a head, he said: “I think that is a pretty good outcome.”

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