Letter from a former refugee - A personal opinion

Like many war-torn countries, Vietnam has a long history of being invaded by other foreign countries through imperialism or colonialism. The Chinese, the French, the Japanese and the Americans have all occupied and ruled Vietnam for their own political benefits and agendas.

I left Vietnam as an asylum seeker when I was 18 years old. This was six years after the end of the Vietnam War (1975). My family is from Southern Vietnam, and it was Southern Vietnam that happened to fight alongside the American army during the war. My father was a police-man, and two of my brothers were in the South Vietnamese army. After the Northern Vietnamese communist regime won the war and reunified the country, they punished people who had any former connections with the American army. My family was in this category. My father was forced to work in the jungle. He contracted malaria and died at the age of 50.

In 1981, when I was about to complete year 12, a local government official told me that I was not allowed to apply for any universities because of my Southern Vietnamese background. Around this time, one of my brothers was conscripted to join the army to fight in Cambodia. And so, I had no choice but to join my brothers in a boat in order to escape from Vietnam.

The crisis of the Vietnamese refugees in the late 70s and early 80s was horrific. Hundreds of thousands of so-called boat people died in their attempts to flee the country.  In Australia, during the height of the humanitarian crisis, PM Fraser and his government generously accepted many refugees from Indochina. Many Vietnamese refugees from detention camps in Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia were allowed to resettle in Australia.

Ask yourself: would you want to risk your life and travel to the unknown whilst you were in the middle of year 12? Would you want to leave your family and friends to start anew in a country where you were alone, in a country where you did not belong, and in a country where you did not speak the language?

Evidently, I have overcome such adversities but still consider myself exceedingly fortunate compared to the refugees in Nauru and detention centres off-shore. What have those asylum seekers done to deserve such inhumane treatment from our current Government?

Here are some realities regarding refugees and asylum-seeking:

1.      It is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia. Both Australian and International laws allow asylum seekers to enter Australia without authorisation.

2.      Compared to other refugee-hosting countries, Australia receives a very small number of asylum applications. In 2012, Australia received just 1.47 per cent of the world’s asylum applications.

3.      In 2010, 6879 asylum seekers arrived in Australia. That is 6.8% of the seats in the MCG.

4.      While asylum seeker arrivals have increased in recent years, the numbers are still very small in global terms and well under one-tenth of Australia’s annual migration intake.

5.      A refugee who has permanent residency in Australia receives exactly the same social security benefits as any Australian citizen or eligible permanent resident in the same circumstances. Centrelink payments are calculated at exactly the same rate for both refugees and non-refugees.

6.      The majority of refugees who have reached Australia by boat are found to be genuine asylum seekers. All must undergo rigorous assessment processes in order to obtain permanent residency in Australia on humanitarian grounds

I was a refugee back in the 80s. I have been a teacher within the Education Department for almost 27 years. My son is training to be a medical doctor and my daughter is training to be an optometrist. We are here because of the generosity of the Australian Government under PM Fraser. We are living and doing the best we can to continue building this great country, much like the generations before us. After all, post-colonial Australia is a land which was built by people from all corners of the world. We are all migrants, except for the indigenous population of the First People. We should show compassion towards those attempting to flee persecution, poverty, or any inhumane living conditions. Australia is a vast country with plenty of opportunities for everyone. We have to stop being so cruel, prejudiced, and narrow-minded; and instead open our hearts to all asylum seekers.

Tuan Quan Le