Since the publication of my book “Cross-cultural liaison: An Inconvenient Love?” in 2007, three mixed couples have joined my friendship list and five of my bilingual colleagues with foreign partners have given birth to healthy, gorgeous boys and girls. So, I thought it was time to revisit the topic.
Nothing much has changed: there is still an increasing trend in intercultural marriages, there are happy and not-so-happy stories, and the issues involved are domestically and internationally intertwined. The personal, social, economic, political and legal advantages due to these relationships are sometimes short-lived. There are instances when these are seen as hurdles rather than stepping stones, e.g. foreign spouse’s lack of integration, children’s identity crisis and unjust outcomes resulting from unfortunate situations (i.e. divorce – children may be moved abroad). However, most individuals in this relationship, even those who failed in their marriage, consider cross-cultural liaison strength and not a weakness. (Preface from Cross-Cultural Liaison Kindle Version).
It’s “the worst refugee crisis since World War II” – I can’t agree more as I very sadly see every day on the news thousands of men, women and children looking starved and exhausted in unsafe boats, desperate individuals and families crawling under and climbing fences, and dead bodies found in seas and abandoned vehicles (such as last week’s discovery in Austria).
Any discussion about migrants and refugees is complicated, complex and emotionally-laden thus we really have to be careful in our choice of words and with our behaviours.
Foremost of all, there are significant differences between immigrants and political refugees. The latter don’t have a choice but flee because of well-founded fear of persecution, illegal imprisonment, torture or murder.
Then there’s what’s commonly known as political correctness (PC), which is about the avoidance of language and ideas that may offend members of a particular group and lead to discrimination. PC first appeared publicly in the 70’s. A decade later, it was well into the consciousness of many educated and well-informed people.
“Illegal” entry and asylum seeking had been a paramount concern in Australia before it became a crisis in Europe. In the late 80’s, while working for the Queensland Government (Australia) as Policy Resource Officer on multiculturalism, I realised the necessity of PC for a harmonious and just society. Australians try to avoid colour identification with their use of Non-English Speaking Background (NESB)- and English-Speaking Background (ESB)- Australians to refer to those who originally come from Asia & other non-English countries and those from the UK & other English-speaking nations, respectively. Also, they often attach the national or ethnic origin of the person to the word ‘Australian,’ such as Asian-Australian (as in the USA: African-/Asian-/Latin-American).
It seems inappropriate to use “illegal/s” (as an adjective and noun) to describe future migrants and refugees because these people have passports or identification cards. What about ‘undocumented?’ Well, when they get off the boat or are caught in borders, they are questioned and their answers documented. So, I would replace it with ‘un-authorised.’ What’s even better is ‘residentially displaced persons’ (I thought of this phrase while rowing in the gym last Sunday).
Alien is out as it evokes the sentiment of being an extraterrestrial, the other, the deviant.
Amnesty is unpopular as it means forgiveness, and these people don’t ask for forgiveness.
The dictionary definition of asylum ranges from institution for mentally-sick people to shelter. Whatever the reason for immigration (economic, political, professional or family reunion), the individual needs a shelter — home/place to stay “roof over his/her head;” therefore, asylum is an alright word and ‘asylum seeker’ makes sense. Asylum seekers ask for protection upon or after arrival in a host country while refugees request and receive protection status outside of the host country.
“Boat people” is an insult to those who have been in the country for ages and those who come by plane, bus/truck or on foot.
Genuine refugees go to 3 or more countries before ending up in the intended destination. In Australia, they are processed in detention centres offshore in neighbouring islands; if found not to be genuine refugees, they are sent to a third country or home.
In Europe, around two-thirds of the EU’s refugee applications are taken in by Germany, Italy, France and Sweden.
Refugees are not illegal under Article 14 of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) adopted by the UN General Assembly in Paris. As well, signatories/parties to the international law on refugees have a legal obligation to assist them. There are 145 countries that have signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and 146 countries the 1967 Protocol.
There are already national and international legislation and processes in place when it comes to determining refugees and asylum seekers. Likewise, overall, immigration programmes of each developed country are quite selective and tough. However, there should be the strictest and most punitive global measures against individuals and groups who engage in smuggling and illegal movement of people (e.g. coordinated enforcement and use of military). Likewise, human and realistic approaches (e.g. more efficient processing, good manners, etc.) to these phenomena are indispensable.
Additionally, internal or “keep them at home” sustainable solutions should be found and implemented immediately. It’s a human nature to desire for peace, prosperity and a better future; if these are available at home, there’ll be no motivation to go elsewhere.