Human rights Opinion

Double standards stir racist-Australia comments

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Some countries have prioritised the intake of certain refugees above others (Image by Ahmed Akacha | Pexels)

We have offered unlimited visas to Ukrainian refugees, but 700,000 displaced Afghans do not get the same treatment. So much for respect for human rights in democratic Australia, writes Bilal Cleland.

THE INVASION of Ukraine by Russia has not only highlighted the nature of world imperialism – echoing the conflict of contending empires prior to the Great War of 1914-18 – it has once more highlighted the racist response from Europe and mainstream media.

The response is an echo of anthropologist Francis Galton’s Hereditary Genius, whereby Galton laid down the hierarchy of races — which he sincerely believed came from his own “scientific” observation.

He asserted that we can judge the comparative worth of different races by "the frequency with which they throw up men of natural ability". Of course, he was quite unaware that his own prejudices and restricted experience determined this “natural ability”.

He was convinced that different skin colours reflected different intellectual capacities, grading from white to brown to black.

Galton concluded that:

'... the average intellectual standard of the negro race is some two grades below our own [Anglo Saxon]."

He also maintained:

"The Australian type is at least one grade below the African negro.”

Such perverse ideology has had devastating effects upon many countries for many years.

Modern Bigotry

Parts of the American media this year made clear their racial prejudice, pointing out the difference between Ukrainian refugees and war victims on one hand and Afghan and Middle Eastern victims of war, on the other.

In an article published by Independent Australia, Sonali Kolhatkar states:

'The Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association (AMEJA) has denounced the overtly racist language of many Western journalists, including American ones like [Charlie] D’Agata of CBS who said of Ukraine that “this isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades”.'

D'Agata had also stated:

“This is a relatively civilised, relatively European – I have to choose those words carefully, too – city where you wouldn’t expect that, or hope that it’s going to happen.” 

Andrew Geddes, director of the Migration Policy Centre (MPC), said:

'I think the strongest contrast is with a bunch of central European countries that were very hostile to Syrian refugees and are now quite much more favourable to Ukrainian refugees.'

Geddes was referring to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia and the Czech Republic — European Union members that were not in favour of welcoming Syrian refugees.

Others have remarked upon the prejudice illustrated by a politically Christian Poland, which has refused admittance to Afghan refugees and rejected African residents fleeing Ukraine but welcomes white Ukrainians.

On this, Sonali Kolhatka said:

'In elevating such disparate skin-tone-dependent attitudes toward refugees, Europe is giving its colonialist heritage a new lease on life. We see echoes today of the dehumanisation that enabled European colonisation of the Global South and the enslavement of generations.' 

Australia shows similar prejudice to that of some European countries. We have offered unlimited visas to Ukrainian refugees and no cap has been placed on the number to be admitted. But 700,000 displaced Afghans do not get the same treatment.

Such double standards have not gone without comment.

Dr Nilanthy Vigneswaran of the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) was outspoken on IA:

“Opening our doors to those fleeing the current Ukrainian conflict is necessary — but we must apply that compassion to all seeking safety in Australia.”  

According to The Department of Home Affairs, the temporary humanitarian visa issued to Ukrainians:

'... will be valid for three years and allow people to work, study and access Medicare, alongside support facilitated by Australia’s experienced Humanitarian Settlement Program providers.'

Last month The Guardian reported:

'A Home Affairs Department spokesperson said immigration authorities had been focused on facilitating travel for people who needed to leave Ukraine urgently...'

Such humane measures do not apply to endangered Afghans.

Meanwhile, our “stop-the-boats” saga continues to imprison refugees. The most glaring example is that of medevac prisoners brought to Australia for medical treatment, who were then left languishing in detention for years with no release date in sight.

So much for respect for human rights in democratic Australia.

Bilal Cleland is a retired secondary teacher and was Secretary of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Chairman of the Muslim Welfare Board Victoria and Secretary of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils. You can follow Bilal on Twitter @BilalCleland.

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