Refugee Rights Action Network WA acknowledge that we are living and working on the stolen land of First Nations peoples whose sovereignty was never ceded. We believe recent comments made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton are an example of how white Australia still arrogates to itself the right to decide unilaterally on who goes and who stays, and which lives are worth saving.

One of RRANs major concerns about this discussion is the way that White South African farmers have been incorrectly portrayed as refugees. We appreciate that people are concerned for the safety of friends and family members in South Africa as a result of instances of violence and we do not wish to diminish any pain or suffering that people have experienced. We are concerned, however about how these fears are being appropriated locally for political benefit. A refugee is a person who has been forced to leave their country because of war, persecution or violence. We believe that the circumstances of white South African farmers and those of refugees, who have been compelled to flee their country of origin, are being conflated.

In comments made last month, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton stated, in regards to white South African farmers, “I think these people deserve special attention and we’re certainly applying that special attention now.” He characterised them as deserving migrants and suggested, “People do need help and they need help from a civilised country like ours”. This rhetoric contrasts with his characterisation of black, brown and Muslim people seeking refuge in Australia and the increasingly punitive treatment meted out to them.

The facts about regional crises of death and displacement are erased. We support the right of anyone experiencing persecution to seek asylum and agree that the cost of parent and other visa avenues can be prohibitive for most families. This however also applies to refugees seeking to help their loved ones escape genocide or war zones. Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been forcibly displaced as a result of a concerted campaign of genocide in Myanmar, while each month hundreds of people continue to be bombed and killed in Syria.

The UNHCR has recently confirmed that they have not received any queries from South African farmers seeking protection from Australia. They instead urged the Australian government to focus on providing urgent resettlement to people on Manus and Nauru who directly sought protection from Australia.

Politicians’ statements about white South African farmers as being preferred refugee claimants have also been echoed in demonstrations by far right groups in Perth. WA Federal Liberal MPs walked alongside people carrying placards through the streets with statements like “Let The Right Ones In / White Lives Matter”.

Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton’s repeated remarks about the prioritisation of white South African farmers should be considered in the context of a long history of racism within both countries, including the White Australia Policy that endured into the 1970s and South African Apartheid.

Australian Federation came after a period of regular colonial massacres  and sought to enshrine ethnic cleansing in law. Since Federation Australia has attempted to restrict non-white migration. Racist legislation continues to be passed today despite the formal end of the White Australia Policy in 1973. Correspondingly, Australia’s border policies inspire other violent border regimes around the world.

RRAN supports the statements made by the UNHCR and believe it is important to refocus the debate on the wider issue of the right to seek asylum and the urgency of regional resettlement. We call on Federal Ministers to extend their concern for white South African farmers to people who have fled from persecution in search of refuge, some of whom have been on Manus and Nauru for almost 5 years.


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