Tuesday, 30 April 2013

welcoming the afghani refugees

after a sad post yesterday, i thought i'd write about something a little more positive today.  there has been a lot of coverage in the news lately about the refugees who have recently arrived from afghanistan.  they worked as interpreters for the nz defence force, and 80 families have been brought to live here.

the thing that has struck me most about this is the favourable media coverage.  all the stories i've seen have a very personal touch, with stories and pictures of some of the families.  i can't find the clip (because i can't remember which channel it's on) where a husband & wife were interviewed on their reaction to nz - well, the wife didn't actually speak because she didn't feel confident about her english.  but we get to hear directly from these people, to hear their words and so to relate to them as people.

i guess the reason why this struck me is that it's different to the usual narratives we hear about refugees and asylum seekers in the media. much of the coverage is around politicians seeking to gain attention, and particularly of late, around changes made by this government around asylum seekers laws.  not to mention mr key's little stunt while julia gillard was here recently, offering to take more refugees from australia, but at the expense of others who would have been part of our 750 quota.

as part of the political rhetoric, we get to hear of refugees and asylum seekers as queue jumpers, or we have the drummed up fear of invasion (by boat, no less) and all manner of ills to be caused by an inflood of refugees.  we then have the radio talkback crowd & their internet equivalent who show nothing more than contempt for people who have come through some incredibly harrowing experiences, very often fearing for their lives.  there is a whole heap of resentment, even it seems, for the very food that goes into their mouths.

so in that context, this has been a refreshing change, and i wonder what impression it has been creating in the minds of those who resent the fact that we have to take any refugees at all.  i hope there is some positive impact, some change in the cultural mood, and a high level of acceptance across the board for refugees and asylum seekers who come to this country.

at this point i do want to acknowledge that whole sector of our society who welcome and support refugees.  there are many, many volunteers who give their time up to help refugees resettle and who act as mentors & support people.  their work is invaluable, their generosity truly humbling.  i wish we could hear and see more about these people in our media, but i guess they aren't considered particularly newsworthy.

a final point: i'm pretty sure the positive coverage has very much to do with the nz defence force & their PR team.  it has all the hallmarks of the NZDF PR machine, and the particular people chosen to speak on behalf of the group seems to have a pre-planned thing.  it's good to see the machinery of the state being used to support this very vulnerable group of people.  it would be nice if that machinery and the politicians who are responsible for running it could provide similar support & positive PR for all the others who come to our country seeking refuge.

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