‘Poor, brown and destitute’.
That is our image of a refugee, as described by Dr Evans (2014). Panic has emerged in Australia over the last couple of decades over the ‘tidal waves’ of refugees crashing onto our shores. It is a surprise to learn that Australia only takes 3% of the world’s refugees and 88% are found to be genuine.
According to Salazar (2012), more than 6.6 million people have migrated to Australia since 1945 and a staggering 40% of the Australian population are first or second generation migrants. Why then is Australia in panic mode? We owe our distorted perception of refugees as a ‘problem’ to popular media.
It has been found that popular media uses terms such as “illegitimate”, “illegal”, “threatening”, “problem” and “burden” to describe refugees. Media representations are overwhelmingly negative, with 76% being pessimistic.
“..Australia over the past decade can be characterised by a fragmentation of social movements, social networks and local social solidarities, and a formal de-politicisation of community media strongly influenced by ..the role of mainstream media in fostering fear and misconceptions regarding refugees,” Salazar states.
Despite seeking refuge in Australia and arriving without a visa being completely legal, there remain deeply engrained misunderstandings among ‘white’ Australians about refugees and migrants in general. The barriers created by mainstream divide society into distinct groups based on ethnicity. One could go so far as to hypothesise that these misrepresentations are responsible for some, if not most, of inter-racial violence and tension within our supposed land with “boundless plains to share.”
In the words of American philosopher, Richard Rorty, “The process of coming to see other human beings as ‘one of us’ rather than as ‘them’ is a matter for detailed description of what unfamiliar people are like and a re-description of what we ourselves are like. This is a task not for theory, but for genres such as ethnography, the journalist’s report, the comic book, the docudrama.. and the novel.”
- Rogers, Simon, 2/7/13, ‘Australia and asylum seekers: they key facts you need to know’, http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/jul/02/australia-asylum-seekers
- Rorty, Richard, 1989, ‘Contingency, Irony and Solidarity’, Cambridge University Press, UK, (the link is far too long but can be viewed here).
- Salazar, Juan Francisco, 2012, ‘Digital Stories and Emerging Citizens’ media practices by migrant youth in Western Sydney, 3CMedia: Journal of Community, Citizen’s and Third Sector Media and Communication, Issue 7, http://web.a.ebscohost.com.ezpr oxy.uow.edu.au/ehost/detail?vid= 3&sid=c5373eb0-b85c-44ea- b3e5- cc2e901acc61%40sessionmgr40 03&hid=4201&bdata=JnNpdGU 9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#db= ufh&AN=79551905