Is that like a suspected criminal?
Used in the way a newsreader recently spoke the words, that’s what the unwary viewer was led to believe. She was, of course, referring to asylum seekers. People on a boat. Men, women and children who seek entry to Australia.
I think it’s important to be very clear when speaking about topics like this. Australia and New Zealand both signed the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. In doing so, Australia (at least our politicians) agreed that Asylum Seekers and Refugees were not to be considered, nor treated as illegal immigrants. Yet in the media all these terms are used interchangeably.
The ‘Suspected Seekers’ referred to in the recent news program are seeking entry into Australia as legally as any tourist carrying a visa. Sadly they’ve not had the means to grab a flight and a cab. Neither did they cruise in on a boat in any way similar to the ones many Aussies float around on over the Christmas period. Our ‘Suspected Seekers’ arrived in a timber hulk, barely able to remain afloat. People willing to spend their life savings to put their children aboard a floating death-trap are desperate, yes, but they are also hopeful. These are people who view our country as a place of wonder and opportunity. A place where a person, no matter where they’re from or what obstacles they’ve encountered, can make themselves a good life. These things we take for granted as citizens of Australia, are the very things refugees and asylum seekers cherish. These are things ‘Suspected Seekers’ are willing to risk everything for.
During the last ‘children overboard’ scandal (which by the way, turned out to be a figment of communal political and media imaginations), Morris Gleitzman wrote a book called Boy Overboard. He was disturbed by the media’s generation of what he called the ‘nameless, faceless fear’. He compared this fear of the unknown with the kind of fear generated during the first part of the movie Jaws. Did you realise that nobody actually saw the shark during the first half of that movie? What they heard were fearful words, scary music and a great many implied threats, all before they saw anything. In his touching, and often very funny book, Gleitzman attempted to teach his young readers that the source of their fear was non-existent.
The latest batch of boat people to approach the shores of Western Australia has brought a new wave of hysteria. With our words, we’re again generating scary images in the minds of viewers and media consumers. We call them ‘suspected seekers’, not people, not babies, not victims. We don’t even call them ‘asylum seekers’ because that would legitimate them.
Words create thoughts. Thoughts create actions. Are you going to be manipulated into acting the way the media would like (for whatever twisted, poorly informed reasons they may have), or are you going to think for yourself?
If you decide to think for yourself, I have some excellent books for you to read this summer.
Boy Overboard and Girl Underground by Morris Gleitzman
The Boat by Nam Lee
Human Rights Overboard by Linda Briskman, Susie Latham and Chris Goddard