We should be ashamed of our attitude towards boat people

OPINION: Asylum seekers, believe it or not, are people just like you and me.

The difference is Australians live in a society that is largely free from violence and poverty.

Asylum seekers come from nations often consumed by war, poverty and human rights abuses.

It seems Australians simply genuinely don't care about other people around the world who are less fortunate.

Imagine the desperation you would have to feel to give a stranger every penny you have for the honour of getting on board an unsafe vessel and hoping against hope a country such as Australia would grant you asylum.

Now imagine how desperate you would have to be to let your children get on that boat.

Asylum seekers made it clear to researchers conducting an independent evaluation that many of them felt it was preferable to die together at sea than remain in the circumstances they had been in.

The attitude towards boat people in this country is something we should all be ashamed of.

It has become such an issue that we let our politicians dominate the news with it.

When they could be announcing health or education reforms, instead they seem to be heading deeper and deeper into a slanging match over who can react most harshly, and in my opinion the most depraved way, to this issue.

I realise border protection is important; I'm not suggesting we open our borders and invite everyone in need to come to our shores. That's not the issue I'm discussing.

It's the feeling of hatred, accompanied by the lack of outcry - and sometimes even glee - when more of these unfortunate souls are killed after an unreliable boat sinks that makes me sick.

It's the way that lack of compassion and empathy also extends to the way we treat these people when they arrive.

Children and teenagers are reported to have attempted suicide and committed self-harm while being held at the Pontville detention centre in Tasmania.

These young people have serious mental health problems and the Australian public doesn't seem to care.

People wonder how the Holocaust happened; how the Nazis were able to disassociate themselves so much from the fact that the Jews, and others they murdered, were actually people.

Unfortunately I can see the same insidious dehumanisation taking place in our society.

People want to buy into nonsense like "the asylum seekers will take our jobs," or "asylum seekers will commit crimes".

Of course then if asylum seekers don't seek employment they are dole bludgers.

No matter how law abiding they are, we shroud them in suspicion because of the colour of their skin.

We make sure that no matter what they do, these people just can't win.

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