Perception matters. Ask Australia’s women asylum seekers.

Recently, Geena Davis noted, “We just heard a fascinating and disturbing study where they looked at the ratio of men and women in groups. And they found that if there’s 17 percent women, the men in the group think it’s 50-50. And if there’s 33 percent women, the men perceive that as there being more women in the room than men.”

Perceptions matter, and perceptions of those in control are typically sexist and racist, especially when the `tipping point’ is involved, when those in power feel the threat of a `new majority’. That’s why perception can’t be the motor for public policy and, even less, for the pursuit of justice, Take Australia … please.

A key plank of Australia’s asylum policy has been deterrence. This has resulted in brutality, torture, horror, despair … and big profits for the private security corporations, most infamously Serco, who run the immigrant `detention’ and `transfer’ installations. With the shift in government over the past week, some wonder if anything will change in terms of Australia’s racist and sexist asylum policies.

If anything, it looks like they will get worse. Within hours of the new government’s installation, the new “de facto Immigration Minister” declared that most refugee applicants are “economic refugees”. There’s no evidence for that statement, but who needs evidence when `perception’ is on your side?

And what is the perception? The boats. The boats keep coming, and sinking. The refugees keep `swarming’. It’s a human tsunami bearing down on Australia. These images are merely part of the `ferocity’ of the anti-refugee anti-asylum-seeker discourse. Meanwhile, the women and children pile up in the `detention centers’. They’re prisons. Detention is too fine a word. Ask the children who go on hunger strike. Ask the 16-year-old Afghan boy who ended a five-day hunger strike yesterday. Why was he barreling towards his own death? He’s an unaccompanied child, in prison, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by every form of hostility, with no visible end in sight to his torment. Perhaps that’s the reason.

The treatment of asylum seekers, and in particular of women and children asylum seekers, has been a mounting succession of cruel jokes. Each step of the way, the asylum seeker’s vulnerability and precariousness are intensified.

But here’s the thing: Australia is not drowning in asylum-seekers. Pesky numbers keep denying the `perception’. Yes, the numbers of refugees and asylum-seekers are rising. Yes, the numbers coming by boat are, for the first time, exceeding those coming by plane. BUT Australia takes a very small percentage of the world’s refugees, around 3 percent. Officially, there are 30,083 refugees currently living in Australia. That means, if you consider the size of the country, Australia has one of the lowest rates in the industrialized world. Australia has 1.4 refugees per 1,000 people. Germany has 7.3; Canada has 4.7; the United Kingdom has 2.4. (The United States has .8.)

There is no flood. Australia can stop building sea walls, prison colonies, and worse. It can. But it won’t. Rather, the new government will opt to continue, and probably fortify, the “`hard bastard’ approach.” Perception matters, as does patriarchy.

 

(Photo Credit: AAP / Julian Smith)

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.