A possie in Aussie

October 30, 2009

Racism is not inevitable: even public opinion on boatpeople is ‘soft’

Joseph Chamie, research director at the Center for Migration Studies and former director of the United Nations Population Division, in an article for Online Opinion, brings attention to broader migration issues than just numbers of asylum seekers.  Mind the gap: public and government views on migration diverge

Chamie argues that governments overlook  public opinion in favour of powerful interest groups, such as business communities, political elites, ethnic associations and labour-exporting nations, in forming immigration policies.

“The consequences of this neglect are likely to become even more serious over time, giving rise, among other things, to increased xenophobia, vigilantism, violence and political extremism as well as the strengthening of radical factions on both the left and right.

“Some of these troubling developments, e.g., rising xenophobia and the success of nationalist parties, have recently become markedly more visible in such countries as Italy, Greece and Switzerland”, Chamie says.

Ian McAllister, in Mary Crock’s book Protection or Punishment: The Detention of Asylum Seekers in Australia claims that Australian politicians have tried to control the ‘dark underbelly’ of Australian opinion by imposing fairly severe immigration provisions. But this ‘strictness’ has been confined to restricting refugees, especially under the Howard government, which substantially increased opportunities for study, work and business visas.

Chamie cites a global study of public attitudes that found that the majority of the people in 44 of the 47 countries surveyed agree with the statement: “We should restrict and control entry of people into our country more than we do now”

It is dangerous to draw conclusions from this, however, because whenever these questions are asked people in all nations indicated that they want less immigration than they presently have, including in nations where integration was proceeding smoothly.

And public opinion surveys are notoriously unreliable predictors of behaviour, especially in relation to migration. Public opinion of rates of migration is, as Goot says, “not only ‘soft’, it is created in the very attempt to measure it.”

Racism is easily aroused, however, but is just as easily ameliorated. People learn racist attitudes from their milieu and once the milieu changes, for example through new laws, people are shocked by behaviours that they themselves once exhibited, and not only repudiate them but also forget that they ever held them.


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