Thursday, August 5

If we show our compassion for refugees, it will help to change your mind | Ellie Mae O’Hagan and Sonya Sceats

IIn October last year, it was reported that Home Secretary Priti Patel had been investigating the use of offshore detention facilities to house people coming to Britain seeking asylum. In practice, this would mean that people arriving in Britain in need of security would be sent to some kind of detention center on islands far from the mainland UK. We are both people with close personal ties to Australia and we know all too well the grotesque consequences of such a system. Australia’s overseas detention has denied people their basic rights and caused untold suffering. In fact, the Australian system was so cruel that the British government actually condemned at the United Nations in 2015.

But while the current UK government likes to mimic Australian-style migration policies, this World Refugee Day is marked by a turning point in both countries, with grassroots activists, concerned citizens and the refugees themselves coming together to. demand a fair and efficient asylum system that processes people quickly and enables them to rebuild their lives in our communities.

In Australia, we are seeing the success of the #HometoBilo campaign, a community effort to return the Sri Lankan Murugappan family to Biloela in Queensland. The campaign, led by neighbors and friends of the Murugappan, has captured the national imagination and united high-level politicians across the political divide. The Conservative government is divided on the issue, eventually agreeing to allow the family to reside in Perth and their Australian-born children to receive medical care, after one developed sepsis and pneumonia at the Christmas Island detention center to which they were sent.

The government says the decision is not a path to settlement on the mainland, but family supporters hope this is a first step toward that end and a sign that the tide of public opinion is turning against policies. draconian asylum.

This type of community storm surge was recently emulated in the UK, when a Kenmure Street resident in Glasgow spotted an immigration van and alerted the community. Soon, hundreds of people surrounded the Interior Ministry van, preventing it from moving, and the two men who were being held inside were finally able to rejoin their neighbors. As lawyer Aemer Anwar told the two men: “They are free thanks to the people of Glasgow.” Like #HometoBilo, this was a people-driven victory that came from communities, driven by friends and neighbors.

How can we build on the victories of these community campaigns? The answer may lie in the way activists and charities talk about refugees. The refugee and migration sector in both countries has been affected by cases of what can be called “patient diagnosis”: the idea that if activists simply presented the facts in an impartial and calm way, like a doctor advising a patient, the public would. he will eventually be persuaded to welcome the refugees, and will value the courtesy and expertise of the activists above the boastful reactionary rhetoric of the far right.

What happened instead was that the industry’s appeal to facts and legislation was too remote and, frankly, too forgettable to really change public opinion. This, in effect, left the field open for the likes of Patel and a succession of hardline immigration ministers in Australia, including the current Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, to become conductor of the public debate orchestra, resulting in a series of increasingly extreme immigration ministers. refugee policies. Patel’s latest effort is to pass the border bill, which would drive a carriage and horses through the refugee convention, whose 70th anniversary we are supposed to celebrate this year.

In 2015, the Asylum Seeker Resource Center, an Australian organization, commissioned communications expert Anat Shenker-Osorio to develop and test better ways of talking about refugees. The results showed that appealing to people’s deep-seated values, talking about treating people the way we would like to be treated, and showing compassion to those in need, worked much better to neutralize unsavory messages against refugees than appealing to facts. and the reason.

This not only helped the activists articulate in a way that resonated more with the people, but created an insurgent mentality among refugee advocates, who were no longer concerned about disagreeing with the public. Proud and determined in their defense of refugee rights, Australian activists managed to make a big impact on the public debate, as evidenced by the fact that in 2019 only one in 100 Australians named asylum seekers the largest the country’s problem, compared to one in 10 Australians. in 2013.

We have searched bring Australian research to the UK, believing that the activists here have a lot to learn from our Australian counterparts. We have found that messages that lead with values ​​rather than issues and facts, that tell a story that contains antagonisms, and that always present positive solutions, can drive the majority of the public to support refugee rights. On the other hand, including graphic descriptions of torture and abuse, sympathizing with refugees, and resorting to delineating between illegal and legal border crossings, encourages people to think of refugees as fundamentally alien to them, and translates arguments into terms of our opponents.

British refugee supporters, like our friends in Australia, are coming together through the #TogetherWithRefugees The largest campaign in British history to build the community networks, agility and determination needed to transform asylum policy in this country to ensure that people are kept safe. What we need now is to be able to talk about it in a way that most people can understand and relate to, with the confidence that most people have compassion for others, and that this compassion will lead us to win.

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