Some interesting aspects of humanitarian entry

A colleague who had worked at the Vienna office told me about a Pole who had enquired about going to Australia. … he was a refugee, he claimed. My friend asked, “Where is your wife?” “In Poland.” “Why don’t you go back and fetch her … “ So, the Pole wandered back to his home town by public transport, fetched his wife, and Australia received two more ‘refugees’.

It was very similar, according to this colleague, in certain Mediterranean cities. There were many unattached young women who enquired about migration. But they offered no skills. Coming from sundry villages, they could offer nothing more than onion picking or something like that. Knowing that there were many single Mediterranean men in Australia, the interviewing officials used to ask if the female applicant could sew. Inevitably, the answer was, “Yes.” So Australia gained another seamstress, hopefully as marriage fodder.

… … When the Solidarity union movement was attacked in Poland, Australia widened its global humanitarian policy, which had hitherto required an applicant to be outside his country and fearful of return because of discrimination. The policy now allowed an applicant to be within his country of nationality. Presumably, the Polish government consented to the departure of those who sought entry to Australia under this expanded policy.

… … when the East European refugee programme was introduced, there was talk of some of the new arrivals in the migrant hostels asking about the cars they thought they were to receive. … One arrived late one afternoon with a group of fellow countrymen. He was outstanding, with his lovely tan-coloured suitcase, matching shoes, and a silver grey suit. The next morning he wore torn jeans and a T-shirt and was queuing up for welfare support. He must have been well briefed overnight.

Another entrant took a dislike to the hostel food and was seen chasing the chef into the car park while brandishing a cleaver. Another was a traumatised person who used to punch out his hostel walls periodically. As his country of origin seemed to produce a disproportionate number of troubled people, some Aussie officials began to wonder if our intake had included former inmates of certain institutions in that country.

I once met a former senior scientist who had moved freely, and by air, between an Eastern European nation and other communist nations. His work had required this travel. He admitted that he had been happy in his job and that he had been well off. When I asked him why he had decided to become a refugee, he said, somewhat lamely I thought, that freedom was more important. A recruit or volunteer? He was going to learn a sharp lesson. Many of the professional Poles I met were unhappy because their qualifications and skills were not recognised in Australia. Driving taxis was no substitute for the job satisfaction they had relinquished. Freedom, which they did value, meant a relatively lower job satisfaction and status.

Later, I was to find that some had returned to Poland – long before Perestroika. They had written back to their friends in Australia to say that they were doing well again. Does the Russian adage: “A lizard on a cushion will still seek leaves” apply here?

… … When I addressed a multicultural group in a country town one night and talked of the government funding ethnicity-based services to the new arrivals, old and young rejected the intrusion of the State into their lives. Independence and self-sufficiency made the nation, they said. “What about accessing services?” they were asked. They were not aware of any problems, they said. And many, many of the old migrants do sincerely hold this belief. They are not jealous in any way of the new arrivals. They saw the new policies as undermining their faith in the individual’s ability to adapt without government interference, for they know what that can lead to.

So, did the welfare industry sell the taxpayer an expensive pup? The test is whether the newer arrivals, supported by an expensive network of settlement services, became better integrated than their predecessors. Judging by a tendency to whinge about needing more from government, an Australian tradition, yes.

(If the above extracts from ‘Destiny Will Out’ suggest that humanitarian entry was somewhat of a game … …! Yet, to my knowledge, Australia did acquire good people, in the main.

But there had developed a sea change: where the earlier immigrants and war-displaced refugees had looked after themselves without whingeing, there seems to have developed, from about the 1970s, a more welfare-oriented perspective. This was, to me – an outsider in the game – the commencement of an era of ethnic empowerment. This subsequently became melded into the age of entitlement.)