A couple of days ago,  Richard Farmer’s morning wrap noted the strong similarities between comments made by Canada’s Immigration Minister, Jason Kenney about asylum seekers in boats and the words used by some of his Australian counterparts.

We don’t want to develop a reputation of having a two-tier immigration system – one tier for legal, law-abiding immigrants who patiently wait to come to the country, and a second tier who seek to come through the back door, typically through the asylum system. We need to do a much better job of shutting the back door of immigration for those who seek to abuse that asylum system.

Given that asylum seekers also arrive on the doorstep of other countries (usually in far greater numbers that the low amounts Australia receives), it was worth having a bit of a closer look at some of the political rhetoric being used in other countries on this issue. After mountains of Googling and checking back through the multitude of stories I’ve tagged on asylum seeker issues over the last couple of years, I actually find myself a bit surprised that there hasn’t been more of the “these people could all be terrorists” outburst that the Wilson Tuckeys of the world so reliably provide — at least not amongst the world’s mainstream parties.

Of course, Wilson Tuckey doesn’t represent the mainstream of his own party either, which is another reminder of just how far we’ve come in Australia in the last few years. The current asylum seeker debate might seem like Groundhog Day here — and there are certainly plenty of similarities — but last time it was the Prime Minister of our country and some of his most senior Ministers who were openly musing about the possibilities of terrorists being on the boats.

There is plenty of huffing and puffing about who is the toughest, but most of the demonising is being directed at the people smugglers, not the asylum seekers.

Much of the government rhetoric used in other countries also seeks to talk tough on illegal immigration, but there is little open vilification — at least in English language media.

Leaving aside the openly racist and fringe parties — such the British National Party or Italy’s Northern League, who will always vilify because that’s a core part of their belief system — there is a lot of talk about controlling borders and controlling flows of people, and plenty of use of terms like illegal immigrants and “economic refugees” to discredit the claims of asylum seekers, but not so much of the “these people are scum” variety, at least from political leaders.

Unfortunately the Northern League is part of Italy’s government, but whilst the policy of the Italian government is brutal, as is some of the general public debate, most of the rhetoric at government level is less demonising.

Italy’s Minister of Parliamentary Affairs, Carlo Giovanardi, has said: “Italy just cannot cope with any more immigrants and this includes asylum seekers. These people aren’t real political refugees.”

The Greek Interior Minister from the recently defeated government, Prokopis Pavlopoulos,  has said things such as: “The great majority of arrivals are economic refugees without political motive, mostly from Pakistan and Bangladesh”, and: “Illegal immigration is a European problem, and I say it yet again that our borders are Europe’s borders, which Europe must protect.”

Tobias Billstrom, the Swedish Minister for Migration  has said: “They have to have valid reasons and if the security situation is improving in Iraq, that is a reason for a higher degree of rejections.”

France’s foreign ministry repeats a common European line: “Out of respect for its international and European obligations, France must prevent illegal migration into a neighbouring country.”

Tim Kirkhope, the leader of Conservative MEPs in Brussels, said: “Britain stands to lose its central pillar of its sovereignty: the ability to decide who can and can’t enter the UK.”

There is plenty more, including some that is more toxic, but the fact one has to search harder for it suggests it is not as widespread at government level as might be assumed.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey