What a nauseous and stunning contrast! Earlier this week both the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian Australia ran articles on the 30,000 asylum seekers living in Australia on bridging visas. These are people who are deemed to have arrived in Australia “unlawfully”, that is by a boat without any travel approvals, and arrived prior to the date from which boat arrivals started being sent to Nauru and Manus Island. They claim to be fleeing persecution and are seeking protection as refugees.

The sentiment of the Telegraph article is summed up in its opening sentence

AUSTRALIA will be dealing with Labor’s asylum-seeker legacy for at least another decade following revelations only 638 of the 30,000 boat people the Coalition government inherited have been sent home.

For the Telegraph these 30,000 asylum seekers are a problem that Australia never should have had and are scandalised by the fact that only 638 have been sent home. I can only assume that the authors have bought into the idea that despite the fact that over 90% of boat arrivals are consistently found to be refugees, that for some reason or other these 30,000 are not. Otherwise the Telegraph is lamenting the fact that we haven’t sent people back to places where they will be shot because they are members of a minority group; imprisoned for their religious beliefs; or beaten for their political views.

In stark contrast a Guardian Australia special investigative report focuses upon the difficulties these 30,000 asylum seekers are facing. They exist on bridging visas that guarantee them the right to remain in Australia for only a limited period of time, sometimes as few as 28 days, sometimes as long as 3 years. But however short or long the period may be it plunges them into a world of uncertainty and inability to construct a long-term future. Many are on visas that do not provide them with the right to work or the right to Medicare assistance, leaving them dependent upon the goodwill of charities and members of the community. None are allowed to travel overseas to visit family nor to bring family to visit them. And meanwhile they wait and wait for their asylum applications to be processed. If a foreign country treated Australian nationals who were fleeing persecution this way we would be outraged.

People sometimes want to argue that the Telegraph and the Guardian are simply offering equal but opposite views. I don’t agree. From where I sit the Telegraph article represents a failure in the most basic social quality of empathy. The Guardian report represents the operation of this essential human trait. A number of studies have shown that when we characterise a group of people as “other” the empathetic centres of our brain shutdown. We lose the emotional capacity to feel with and for the other. Jesus put it somewhat simply, that we should love our neighbour as ourselves, and then taught us to see even our enemies as our neighbours.
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