Image: Protestors rally during a demonstration against the Muslim immigration ban at John F. Kennedy International Airport on January 28, 2017 in New York City. Photo by Stephanie Keith. Image Source.
While Trump’s travel ban has been temporarily blocked—a move that President Trump is definitely Not Happy about—the sense of urgency hasn’t faded. Protestors in the US are doing the hard work of fighting the travel ban. We need to do the same here in Australia, too.
The situation in the US doesn’t exist in isolation. Australia’s tough policies on refugees and asylum seekers have paved the way for other countries (ahem, the US) to follow our lead. Last year, Prime Minister Turnbull proposed a cruel bill to permanently ban all refugees who entered the country after July 2013. If this bill goes ahead, many refugees will be unable to reunite with their families here in Australia. Many more will face the inhumane consequences of deportation.
Fadak Alfayadh, Director of Advocacy at RISE, says that bills like these are shocking for the refugee community. “Obviously the way Australia deals with refugees is deteriorating. We’ve reached the point now where we’re just about to do something as awful as the US has done for the refugee community, the muslim community and other migrant communities.” The Australian public urgently needs to come together to oppose these cruel policies, but many don’t know where to start.
We spoke with RISE to better understand how people outside the refugee community can help fight racism, islamophobia and the poor treatment of refugees. RISE (Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees) is a grassroots organisation run by people who have been immediately affected by refugee and asylum seeker policy in Australia. “We’ve all been through the process of seeking asylum, we’ve all been refugees at some point and a lot of us have come out of detention centres. Because it directly affects us, we are the organisation that knows how to tackle [refugee policy] in an effective way.”
Self-determination is integral to the effectiveness of any social movement. “Social movements should be run by the very people who are affected,” says Fadak, “it shouldn’t be run by people who are disengaged or have a saviour complex”. There are resources supporters of refugees and asylum seekers can access to become better allies, such as RISE’s list of 10 things you can do if you’re not a boat person or ex-detainee (or the equivalent for artists looking to work with refugee communities).
When it comes to effectively supporting refugee communities, the first thing we should do is listen. That means amplifying refugee and asylum seeker voices and listening to them tell their own stories. Empowerment is key. If you’re not part of these affected communities, Fadak asks that you “show solidarity where it is asked for and needed. Help fight racism within your own community”.
“RISE is quite unique in how it deals with refugee issues. We actually oppose all forms of detention. Currently all political parties—even the Greens—support some form of mandatory detention … It might be for like a week, or a month, but [RISE] oppose that altogether. There’s racism and islamophobia there, and that’s what our politicians use to justify [the treatment of refugees]. We’ve sort of accepted it. It’s pretty normal now; it’s normal for people to go through detention centres.”
Similarly, organisations like RISE work to change the way that refugees are treated on a structural level. While snap actions (like the #BlockTheBill rally) are an important part of their strategy, a lot of their work involves lobbying against refugee policies directly. According to Fadak, “We try not to be reactionary and actually dismantle detention centres from their very core.”
Cruel and inhumane treatments against refugees, migrant groups and minorities aren’t isolated incidents. They’re happening on a global scale. It’s about time Australia started leading the way for the right reasons—by standing up against the illegal and immoral treatment of human beings—instead of being complacent and allowing more atrocities to happen.
If you want to stop Australia from becoming like the US, there are a few things you can do right now. You can donate—money makes a difference. You can show up—attend protests and support minority-led actions (heads up, the next rally is 11 Feb). You can volunteer when you are asked to—follow groups on Facebook and look for callouts for volunteers. Don’t just insert yourself; be useful and volunteer when you’re needed.
Most of all, you can listen to activists like Fadak. A former refugee from Iraq, Fadak came to Australia in 2003 after the US Invasion, which Australia was a part of. “Australia was involved in destroying my home country beyond repair,” she said, “that’s why I think countries like the US, the UK and Australia have an obligation to assist people from countries like Iraq”. As an increasing number of people are being displaced by conflict, global warming, capitalism and other causes, we have an obligation to support these people. Not only because of our legal, moral and international obligations—but also because we’re part of the problem. Now let’s find a way to be part of the solution.