Exclusive to The Middle East Online
Edited by Nelly Tawil
When Australia’s Immigration Minister spoke out about the level of literacy and numeracy among migrants late on Tuesday, he was addressing what has become one of the hot topics of this election season.
Social networks and media were set ablaze with criticism and opinions of Peter Dutton’s attempt to demonise some of the world’s most vulnerable people as a simultaneous threat to Australian jobs and a potentially dreadful drain on the welfare system suggests electoral panic on Wednesday. Mr. Dutton’s comments, which came late Tuesday night, were labeled as “xenophobic” and according to the Greens and Labor should be disregarded.
“These people would be taking Australian jobs… for the many who would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that.”
Mr. Dutton’s comments were a response to a suggestion from the Greens that Australia should boost its humanitarian intake. Ms. Bishop backed him, reiterating the financial argument, while Mr. Turnbull lauded his minister and in effect claimed that Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum was beyond reproach.
“They won’t be numerate of literate in their own language, let alone English,” he told Sky News in an interview on Tuesday night. “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.”
At this point it is important to point out that 26% of the population of Australia is foreign-born. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) 26% roughly equates to 5.8 million people.
In the hours after Mr. Dutton’s interview, plenty of those people, their children and their supporters took to social media to respond.
Kon Karapanagiotidis, the founder of Australia’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre responded soon after the interview on twitter “How many languages can you speak @PeterDutton_MP? For most of the #refugees I work with English is their 4th or 5th language. #Dutton”
Soon after the first comment he posted another saying “Somehow I came from grandparents who were #refugees & I have 6 degrees & an Order of Australia Medal. How many do you have Peter #Dutton?”
A number of people mentioned the work of Munjed al-Muderis, a surgeon who fled Iraq after ignoring army orders to cut off the ears of deserters. He arrived in Australia by boat and went on to become one of the country’s most prominent orthopaedic surgeons, known for his work helping amputees.
Another prominent refugee is Hieu Van Le, the governor of the State of South Australia, who travelled to Australia by boat in 1977 having fled his native Vietnam.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull defended Mr Dutton, calling him an “outstanding” immigration minister.
Mr Turnbull said: “People that are coming out of the war-ravaged areas, out of the Horn of Africa and other places in the world, of course they have – many of them have never been employed. Many of them have not had very much education. Many of them are illiterate in their own languages.”
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop later agreed with Mr Dutton over his concerns jobs would be lost to refugees.
Mr Dutton’s office then released statistics to back up his statement, the statement held statistics revealing that 44% of female arrivals and 33% of male do not understand spoken English prior to arrival. 23% of female arrivals and 17% of males are illiterate in their own language; 15% have never attended school; 46% have never undertaken paid work.
His intentions backfired when former BBC presenter and current SBS senior political correspondent Daniela Ritorto pointed out a discrepancy in Mr. Dutton’s statements via social media.
“From the press release of Minister Peter Dutton. This means 77% female & 83% male refugees are literate. #ausvotes”