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Silk Farm in Siem Reap

Another week, another collection of articles I have found interesting enough to pass on.

The articles

  • The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says Australians need to get over their obsession with boat people.  I’m a little annoyed about the human trafficking reference though, that’s quite different to people smuggling and confuses the conversation.
  • A fascinating article in The New Yorker about a plagiarist.
  • So apparently women are guilty of sexually harassing men when they look good in their clothes.  Say what?!  Make sure you read the comments, they’re even better than the article.

Blog of the week

  • Brain Pickings is like an online museum of super cool and artsy stuff.

IMG_0856

It’s that time of the week again.

The Book

  • I’m actually going to stop writing this, as although I know very few people read this blog, I’m finding it a little stressful. Stupid, I know.  But as I was finishing The Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla, I started panicking a little about what book I would read next.  I knew I wanted to take a break from the series, but suddenly started worrying about what people would think of the next book I choose to read.

Someone once said to me that when we worry about people judging us for something, it’s because we judge other people for the same reason.  Maybe I’m a book snob and don’t want people to know I read some trash as well (okay, I confess, I read all the Sookie Stackhouse books in a month and a half last year.  Are they trash?  You tell me.  I really enjoyed them).  I don’t panic about books so much as I do about music.  I find music snobs incredibly intimidating and showing one of them what I’m listening to on my iPod is enough to induce a small panic attack.

I don’t think I’m worried so much as I don’t want my book choice to be influenced by what I think other people will think of me by what I read.  That being said, if you’re interested in what I’m reading (who wouldn’t be?!) feel free to ask.  And if I’m reading a particularly interesting book, I’ll post about it.

For those who want to know, I have recently been reading Call for the Dead, the first book by John le Carre, and the first book introducing George Smiley, the protagonist in the recent film Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (excellent film, I highly recommend it). I finished that in two nights and am now reading The Dark Tower VI: Song of Susanah.

Articles

  • Another confession, I am a Brangelina fan.  But seriously, is anyone surprised? Some time last year I came across this photo shoot by the couple.  I quite like it except for a few strange photos that seem to be depicting some violence.  I don’t really get that.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, here is a photo gallery on American poverty from The New Yorker.
  • The Obama Memos in The New Yorker outline why I never want to be the leader of any country.
  • The Guardian on the overuse of the word literally.
Blog/site of the week
  • Tiny Vices is an online gallery.  I haven’t gotten past the home page yet.  It’s mesmerising watching the photos change every few seconds.

So Myanmar is to be the chair of ASEAN in 2014. Really?! And after 50 years the US is reengaging with Myanmar. Here is President Obama’s speech.

Good afternoon, everybody. Throughout my administration—and throughout this trip—I’ve underscored America’s commitment to the Asia Pacific region, but also I’ve underscored America’s commitment to the future of human rights in the region. Today I’m announcing an important step forward in our efforts to move forward on both these fronts.

For decades, Americans have been deeply concerned about the denial of basic human rights for the Burmese people. The persecution of democratic reformers, the brutality shown towards ethnic minorities, and the concentration of power in the hands of a few military leaders has challenged our conscience, and isolated Burma from the United States and much of the world.

However, we have always had a profound respect for the people of Burma, and the promise of their country—a country with a rich history, at the crossroads of East and West; a people with a quiet dignity and extraordinary potential. For many years, both the promise and the persecution of the Burmese people has been symbolized by Aung San Suu Kyi. As the daughter of Burma’s founding father, and a fierce advocate for her fellow citizens, she’s endured prison and house arrest, just as so many Burmese have endured repression.

Yet after years of darkness, we’ve seen flickers of progress in these last several weeks. President Thein Sein and the Burmese Parliament have taken important steps on the path toward reform. A dialogue between the government and Aung San Suu Kyi has begun. The government has released some political prisoners. Media restrictions have been relaxed. And legislation has been approved that could open the political environment. So, taken together, these are the most important steps toward reform in Burma that we’ve seen in years.

Of course, there’s far more to be done. We remain concerned about Burma’s closed political system, its treatment of minorities and holding of political prisoners, and its relationship with North Korea. But we want to seize what could be an historic opportunity for progress, and make it clear that if Burma continues to travel down the road of democratic reform, it can forge a new relationship with the United States of America.

Last night, I spoke to Aung San Suu Kyi, directly, and confirmed that she supports American engagement to move this process forward. So today, I’ve asked Secretary Hillary Clinton to go to Burma. She will be the first American Secretary of State to travel to the country in over half a century, and she will explore whether the United States can empower a positive transition in Burma and begin a new chapter between our countries.

That possibility will depend upon the Burmese government taking more concrete action. If Burma fails to move down the path of reform, it will continue to face sanctions and isolation. But if it seizes this moment, then reconciliation can prevail, and millions of people may get the chance to live with a greater measure of freedom, prosperity, and dignity. And that possibility is too important to ignore.

Later today I’ll reinforce these messages in America’s meeting with Asean—including with President Thein Shein. Meanwhile, when she travels to Naypyidaw and Rangoon, Hillary will have the chance to deliver that message to the government, to civil society, and to democratic activists like Aung San Suu Kyi.

Again, there’s more that needs to be done to pursue the future that the Burmese people detserve—a future of reconciliation and renewal. But today, we’ve decided to take this step to respond to the positive developments in Burma and to clearly demonstrate America’s commitment to the future of an extraordinary country, a courageous people, and universal values.

Thank you very much.

I am so excited that SBS has done this and I can’t wait to see it! One of the reasons, in my opinion, behind the fear and distrust of asylum seekers in Australia is a lack of the human element in the story. I hope that after watching this show many people will think about and see the story of asylum seekers a little differently. I by no means expect people to change their minds completely and call for an increase in our numbers, but I hope it will decrease the hysteria and xenophobia directed towards one of the most vulnerable groups in our society. Perhaps it may also lead to some more considered and intelligent discussion about asylum seekers in government, the media, the workplace, and around the dinner table.

Now, how to get it onto the commercial stations…

UNHCR have recently released their latest figures on international asylum seeker trends in industrialised countries.  The report includes 44 industrialised countries.  I will keep saying the words industrialised countries as this is highly significant.  I have very briefly summarised the report and focused on the Australian figures for those who may be interested.

By the way, did I mention that these figures are for industrialised countries only?  If the rest of the world were included the percentages would be very different (i.e. much much much lower).

  • Australia ranked 15th in the asylum seeker receiving countries, the US ranked first (most were Chinese and Mexican)
  • In 2009 and 2010 Australian received only 2% (that’s right, 2%!) of asylum seeker applications.  This is up from 1% in 2006, 2007, and 2008
  • The top five destination countries (industrialised countries) are the US (15%), France (13%), Germany (12%), Sweden (9%), and Canada (6%)
  • When the number of arrivals is viewed as a percentage of national population the top five are Cyrpus, Malta, Sweden, Lichtenstein, and Norway
  • When viewed in terms of GDP per capita the top five are the US, France, the UK, Sweden, and Canada
  • In 2009 the top nine countries of origin were (in order) Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Russian Federation, China, Serbia, Nigeria, Iran, and Pakistan
  • In 2010 the top ten countries of origine were (in order) Serbia, Afghanistan, China, Iraq, Russian Federation, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, and Sri Lanka (which ranked 13th in 2009)

So we panic about our 2% and lock up asylum seekers so they can’t hurt us.  Here is what UNHCR have to say about that:

“The relatively small number of people coming to Australia – coming largely from the most troubled and conflict-ridden regions of the world – again demonstrates the vital importance and relevance of the Refugee Convention and asylum as the principal means of protecting people who are fleeing persecution and serious human rights violations” UNHCR Regional Representative Richard Towle said today.

“In Australia, the challenge is to maintain fair, humane and expeditious processing of all asylum claimants, irrespective of their method of entry. The current approach to mandatory detention – which involves often long periods in isolated locations and crowded conditions – is a challenge that needs particular attention.”

“Experience shows that people held in such conditions frequently experience high levels of personal stress, including self-harm.”

“UNHCR believes there are ways of managing the legitimate security concerns of States while, at the same time, providing more flexible, community-based arrangements for people in Australia while their asylum claims are being processed.”

Those who would like to read the report can find it here: http://www.unhcr.org/4d8c5b109.html

Here is the article about Australia’s intake http://unhcr.org.au/unhcr/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=202&catid=46&Itemid=92

I am currently writing an essay on war journalism and asylum seekers, and for some strange reason (or not so strange as I am an expert procrastinator) I find it easier to write about my essay than to actually write it. Maybe writing about it will give me the motivation I need to finish it.

Just before Christmas I took a class (my last class!) on war journalism and peace journalism. What is the difference you ask? Well the difference can be summed up in the current, or quite longstanding, coverage of asylum seekers, and the way I think it should be covered. Have you ever noticed that the people interviewed about asylum seekers are very rarely asylum seekers themselves? More often than not it is politicians, and occasionally a professional in the field advocating for better policy and treatment of asylum seekers.

I am so sick of hearing the words ‘waves of asylum seekers’, ‘floods of asylum seekers’, ‘economic migrants’, and the most untrue of the untrue words said: ‘illegal’. How do they get away with it? How does the media keep reporting untruths? How do they only ever provide one perspective, that of the politicians?

Why has events surrounding asylum seekers in Australia been reported in this way for so long? One answer could be the way in which it has been define: as a political issue. This means that it is an issue to be battled between political parties: Labor, The Coalition, and the Greens. When representatives of these three have been interviewed then the journalist may believe s/he has provided an unbiased and balanced version of events. All perspectives have been covered because all political parties have been represented.

If, instead it were identified by the media, the public, and those in power as a humanitarian issue it may lead to a different focus. Focus may shift to humanitarian need, the cause of the need, what can be done to alleviate the suffering of those involved, and how can Australia help? This may lead to a sense of pride in the Australian public rather than one of mistrust and fear. The public would see how they are able to help those in need, there would be a focus on solutions and support, rather than security and fear.
http://www.rethinkrefugees.com.au/?gclid=COq8luX_rqYCFU2DpAodbFSYoA