It is interesting to observe the impact race and religion has on refugees. Australia, as we know it today, has been built by immigrants. The first non-indigenous arrivals were the British in 1788 and declared that the land was ‘terra nullius’ even though the settlers were aware of the native population (Thompson 2011). Around 1850 when the Australian gold rush began, a significant amount of migrants entered the country from Europe and China to work in the gold mines. However laws to control the only the Chinese population at the time were created (Price 1974), it is suggested that “Cultural differences” among other issues was the cause of this (SBS 2015). In 1901, the “White Australia policy” was introduced and which restricted the entry of Non-European immigrants into Australia.
While the above relates to immigrants and not refugees or asylum seekers, it is safe to assume that even stricter laws would have applied to refugees. For example, in 1835, New South Wales Governor, Sir Richard Bourke declared that “all people found occupying land without the authority of the government would be considered illegal trespassers”; this effectively made aboriginal Australians “illegal trespassers” in their own land. And after many non-white refugees entered Australia during World War 2 the Australian government wanted to deport those who did not leave voluntarily, however due to protest, needed population growth, and labour the government relaxed its policies (Racismnoway 2015). Tazreiter states that “persistent fears over border control and the protection of insiders or citizens from both real and imagined threats have been dominant and potent since early white settlement days” (Tazreiter 2010), this is quite evident in the above examples.
In contemporary Australian society, it is argued that the ‘othering’ of muslins is “…grounded in a series of interrelated cultural myths and stereotypes, largely based on the opposition of a ‘primitive’ Islamic culture…vilification of Australian Muslims continues the historic xenophobia by non-Muslim Australians, embodied in commonwealth policies aimed at discouraging ‘undesirable’ immigrants from coming to Australia” (Saniotis 2004). This sentiment seems to be reflected in current Australian policies where the current federal government implies that it prefers to take on Christian refugees over Muslims from the current Syrian migrant crisis (Bagshaw 2015). The Australian government states that this is on the bases of those who are ‘persecuted minorities’, however it is suggested by journalists who have been in Syria that the most vulnerable were Muslims (Pasha 2015).
Impact of race and religion for refugees in Australia references
- Bagshaw, Eryk. 2015. “Syrian migrant crisis: Australian Islamic leaders label Christian refugee preference as ‘bigoted’” The Sydney Morning Herald. Published September 9 2015. http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/syrian-migrant-crisis-australian-islamic-leaders-label-christian-refugee-preference-as-bigoted-20150908-gjhvjl.html
- Pasha, Suraina. 2015. “We Shouldn’t Select Refugees By Religion” The Huffington Post. Published September 21 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com.au/suraina-pasha/we-shouldnt-select-refugees-by-religion_b_8137366.html
- Price, Charles A. 1974. “The great white walls are built : restrictive immigration to North America and Australasia 1836-1888.” Canberra : Australian Institute of International affairs
- Racismnoway. 2015. “The ‘White Australia’ Policy” NSW Government, Department of Education. Last Accessed October 26 2015. http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=46
- Saniotis, Arthur. 2004. “Embodying ambivalence: Muslim Australians as ‘other’” Journal of Australian Studies 28 (82): 49-59.
- SBS. 2015. “Fear of the Chinese“ SBS Australia. Last Accessed October 26 2015. http://www.sbs.com.au/gold/story.php?storyid=46
- Tazreiter, Claudia. 2010. “Local to Global Activism: The Movement to Protect the Rights of Refugees and Asylum Seekers” Social Movement Studies 9 (2): 201-214.
- Thompson, Stephen. 2011. “Governor Bourke’s 1835 Proclamation of Terra Nullius” NSW Migration Heritage Centre. Last Accessed October 26 2015. http://www.migrationheritage.nsw.gov.au/exhibition/objectsthroughtime/bourketerra/
This is an altered version of an assignment submitted for human rights studies.