How do we get refugee rights on the agenda?

In Mongolia, where I live, the plight of the Syrian refugee is not really on the agenda.  Out of sight out of mind it is for this massive country, sandwiched between two giants. Russia and China are two countries who also do not have the resettlement of Syrian refugees on their political roadmap. Unfortunately, even though Russia’s involvement in the war is extensive, they have done nothing to help the 11 million people displaced as a result of the persistent violence.

In Australia, where I am from, refugee rights are on the agenda here and there. They increase in visibility when horrible images of once lively little children are shown dead on a beach or confused in the back of an ambulance or when some poor sod lights himself on fire on Nauru screaming “I can’t take it anymore” before he does so. Australia runs the most insidious of “deterance” policies, imprisoning people on islands with developing economies whose governments need the money and the aid. Nauru and Manus Island are detention centres run by the Australian government, designed to make people so fearful of being there they will not get on a boat to seek asylum in Australia.

In any case, the Syrian refugee is a heard of “thing” in Australia, invoking general sadness for some people, threats of terrorism for others and for others still the situation is a real humanitarian crisis which our government should be doing far more to mitigate. Australia used to be at the forefront of international protection when they met refugees at the airport in Ho Chi Minh during the Vietnam war and flew them to safety. We now have vibrant Vietnamese communities and those same bigots who scream terrorists! probably love a good Pho on a Friday night.

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Refugee rights are on the agenda in America, as we have seen with the election of President Donald Trump, a man who ran on a hard-line view of refugee intake and immigration. He propagated the harmful rhetoric that refugees are a threat to national security, a “Trojan horse” situation where ISIS sympathisers could lie their way in and blow America up from the inside. Except America has one of the most rigorous vetting processes in the western world and it takes an average of 18 months to two years for one Syrian to be screened.

And refugee rights are on the agenda in Hungary, or rather keeping them out is on the agenda, an agenda set by far-right leader Victor Orban. The horrible irony is that during the Hungarian refugee crisis of 1956, 200,000 people fled a Soviet crackdown in and around Budapest. In the aftermath of WWII when people saw how far human cruelty could extend, the world came together to resettle the Hungarian people swiftly and with humanitarian finesse. Thirty-seven countries met through the U.N, sitting down to decide to share the responsibility for helping these people out. People that didn’t want to leave their own country. People that were running for their lives. Some of these people went to the U.S, some to Australia. People that have a lot to contribute and are human beings. The cinematographer of Ghostbusters was a Hungarian refugee. And now Hungary turns Syrians away like they are diseased cattle.

What is to come of all of this? Politicians playing monopoly with people’s lives get the most votes and you’ve won the game! I don’t like this game. I refuse to play. Instead, I think we must focus on the community. The nice things people do for each other day to day, the kindness people do show refugees when they do finally make it.

We can set the agenda at the bottom of the rung, down here on the ground, where we live and work and vote. Refugee rights are all of our rights. We need to celebrate kindness, be good to each other, focus on the community and hopefully, we can influence what policies people vote for from the ground up.


Hi all, my name is Jacinta Harford and I currently work in International Development in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. I have a Master of International Studies and am fascinated by the world! I love international relations and writing about politics.