Political hostility towards refugees
A few weeks ago I met a Hungarian man in Melbourne, who fled to Australia following the bloody events of the 1956 revolution in his home country. He spoke with great gratitude about how he – a refugee at the time – was welcomed by Australia, was given a job and an opportunity to build a life in the country. His, and thousands of others’ journey to Australia over fifty years ago was not easy, but his story shows help, aid and trust in every country he passed through.
It is difficult to fathom then, why the global political attitude towards refugees and people seeking asylum is so different today. In the United States Donald Trump has recently called a ban on entry to the country from seven Muslim-majority countries. He is also pursuing the construction of the promised wall between the USA and Mexico. Across the Atlantic Ocean many European nations are erecting physical and imagined walls to stop the flow of refugees, and far right political parties promoting zero-immigration are gaining ground fast.
Although often praised for its openness towards immigration, recent reports by Amnesty International regarding the country’s infamous off-shore asylum centers suggests that Australia too has some improving to do. The 2016 report has found that children, women and men living on remote islands like Nauru and Manus Island are facing constant physical, sexual and mental abuse. Furthermore, the country’s complicated visa system leaves many already in mainland Australia without access to work, housing, medical care and other social support systems.
Hope for people seeking asylum
In this hostile political environment there seems to be little hope for those seeking relief and a new life in the Western world. However, I believe that the world might be witnessing its largest humanitarian movement thus far. Where governments are failing to implement successful humanitarian programs, individuals are stepping in and filling the gaps left by their parliamentary representatives. Non-governmental and not-for- profit organisations focusing on alleviating the suffering of refugees and people seeking asylum are emerging across the globe. Some provide food and clothing. Others provide information and legal advice. And then there is one in particular, which believes that successful integration is key for a coexisting society – Refugees Welcome.
Starting off in Germany, Refugees Welcome has now spread to many countries and, as the name suggests, is all about welcoming refugees to one’s home country – and one’s home. The idea is simple – provide those lacking social support with short – and long-term housing. It’s almost like AirBnB, but without all the hassle of paying – so it could even be called RefugeeBnB. People who would like to help but can’t necessarily afford to do so financially can now help out in a different way. Some people might have a free bedroom, others might have a whole unused apartment or house at their disposal. Refugees Welcome is the platform that connects these people with refugees and asylum-seekers, and the benefits are huge.
For refugees, having the chance to escape the dismal conditions of refugee camps and asylum-centers is priceless. A sense of security and safety is a luxury that these people have long been yearning for. For hosts, it is a great way to help, and receiving gratitude is only a bonus to what they themselves gain from engaging with people from different cultural backgrounds. But perhaps the biggest beneficiary from the Refugees Welcome initiative is society at large.
In a 2013 academic paper, Teresa Garcia-Munoz and Shosana Neuman talk about the ‘bridge or buffer theory’ regarding integration. They explain that the trauma acquired through the process of migration leads to an increased predisposition to search for comfort within ones national, cultural or religious group. This can enhance hostility towards these groups, as they are perceived as a group threat. However, directly engaging migrants with the local population of a country can provide them with social and civic skills that can soften the assimilation process. So when a local family provides a roof for a refugee family, they not only create a mutually beneficial relationship, but add another building stone to the creation of a more accepting and more coexisting society.
To find out more about Refugees Welcome Australia and to get involved, visit www.refugeeswelcome.org.au. For more information on Refugees Welcome International, visit www.refugees-welcome.net.