Refugees: Let them stay!

The plight of refugees fleeing deadly conflict in the Middle East and elsewhere has generated huge sympathy across the world.

In Australia, tens of thousands of people joined demonstrations and vigils to put pressure on the government to accept 12,000 more refugees from Syria. This must be seen as a huge victory considering the many years of anti-refugee rhetoric we have witnessed in Australian politics.

In recent weeks this solidarity has extended to asylum seekers under threat of being sent to  offshore detention with the #LetThemStay actions. The stand taken by hospital workers at Brisbane’s Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital has shown how collective action and workers solidarity can have a real and meaningful effect.

A number of institutions, including Victorian Trades Hall, have offered refuge to those seeking asylum. Now, we need to turn this symbolic offer into reality. Many industries are connected to the refugee detention system directly, and many more indirectly. Health professionals, teachers and airline workers are starting to recognise their ability to stop the deportation of refugees. Many of our superannuation funds invest in companies that profit from the detention of refugees. We should all be raising these issues in our unions.

The long-term solution to stopping the government’s brutal refugee policies is to challenge the political basis for the anti-refugee sentiment in society.

Sympathy with refugee babies will not be enough to change government policy. There is a reason many people continue to support mandatory detention and offshore processing.

The government has turned what is primarily a humanitarian issue into a concern of national sovereignty. Both major parties now claim that keeping out refugees is about keeping Australians safe from terrorism, preventing public services from being overwhelmed and protecting ‘Australian values’. This nationalist approach helps politicians justify draconian border controls and the brutal treatment of refugees, but does nothing to address the underlying problem of lack of jobs, affordable housing and diminishing access to public services.

Nationalism cannot resolve the root causes of the economic and social problems faced by working class people. This system operates to enrich a tiny, wealthy elite by exploiting ordinary people and creating divisions using nationalism and racism.

The same nationalism used to whip up fear and hatred of refugees is used to build support for waging the wars overseas that create refugees. It is incredible the extent to which both major parties have been able to erase their own role in and responsibility for creating the conditions most refugees are fleeing.

The alternative to nationalism and racism is workers solidarity and collective action. No Room For Racism is a grassroots community campaign aiming to bring together all those fighting to end the economic injustice used to fuel and perpetuate racism. Get involved today!

By Mel Gregson

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