Home » Community Life, Keren Tuch, Recent Posts

Refugee Stigma

June 28, 2011 – 6:42 pm9 Comments

By Keren Tuch

There were many thought provoking events on last week in honour of Refugee Week, including the confronting SBS series Go Back To Where You Came From, discussed here and here.

One event I attended was a forum put on by the Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria and Multicultural Arts Victoria which was titled Labels & Liabilities: When is a refugee no longer a refugee?  This interesting question was addressed by  three people who came here as refugees themselves; Mr. Kot Monoah, Ms. Nyadol Nyuon and Ms. Mmaskepe Sejoe.  The refugees varied in age and backgrounds but were united on a few common issues.

The word refugee can have a positive meaning, although the only example the speakers referred to was the provision of services by the Australian government or other organisations.  Otherwise, the label was a liability.

A label like refugee, asylum seeker or Jew places people in boxes and in turn affects how both the individuals view themselves, and how the ‘others’ perceive them.   If a refugee kid is misbehaving, it is because he has post-traumatic stress disorder. If another kid is misbehaving, it’s because he’s naughty.

My high school years were full of debates  as to whether I was an Australian Jew or a Jewish Australian, assuming one label was more defining of my identity than another. In reality, both labels only tell part of a story of who I am.

Ms. Nyuon described how being labelled created a stagnant identity for her.  She recalled that when she was in high school she wanted to participate in the normal English class, but the principal thought he was doing her a favour by keeping her in English as a second language class, because she was a refugee.  It was hard for her to shake the label that she thought stifled her personal growth.

It also deflated Ms. Nyuon’s self esteem.  When she was accepted into law school in Australia, she assumed it was because they pitied her refugee plight, and not because she has the same intellectual capacity as her Australian peers doing law.

Labels can also prevent integration into the wider community.   Ms. Sejoe spoke of a yearning to belong to a community.  It pains her when someone asks her where she is from, owing to her dark skin colour.  She replies “Carlton”, where she has lived for more than 20 years and feels connected to the community there.  Unable to shake their curiosity, the typical follow up response is where are you really from?  Community is where you are, even if it is a community of parents of school children in year two.

So when does a refugee stop becoming a refugee?  It seems that it depends on to whom you ask the question to.  If you ask a refugee, perhaps being called a refugee is initially useful to help access services in order to familiarize oneself with the community.  However, there appears to be a turning point when it is useful to get rid of labels and stigmas in order to integrate and be accepted in the wiser community.

The Australian Jewish community is made up of a lot of ‘refugees’, and their descendants. It is incumbent upon us to accept the new refugees, acknowledge the positive contribution they make, and help them shed their label.

Keren Tuch is the Education Director of Jewish Aid Australia, which mobilises the Australian Jewish community in the pursuit of humanitarian relief and social justice for disadvantaged people in Australia and overseas, including Sudanese refugees in Melbourne and Sydney.

Print Friendly

9 Comments »

  • I think it’s more a case of skin colour preventing integration rather than a label of “refugee”. This barrier is in place for as long as Australians keep asking anyone who looks “different” (whatever that means), “where are you from?”. I’ve had people ask me if I’m from Israel!

    Do you think the post WW2 Jewish refugees were stigmatized and labelled? Certainly, there was a huge cultural divide between the immigrants and the Anglos here in Melbourne.

    The question of when a refugee stops being a refugee is a very good one. You’d think that having successfully escaped to a safe haven, a refugee would want to quickly shift their mindset and want to make Australia their new home. Contrast this to the Palestinians, who are entrenched in an eternal refugee/victim culture.

  • Keren Tuch says:

    David,

    I agree with you that it is not only refugees who are singled out for looking different – there is a curiosity for anyone who looks slightly different.

    Last year at my work, there was a woman there who was from Ecuador, and one day revealed that she was a refugee and arrived in Australia 20 years ago. I had this thirst to know more about what the situation was like and why she had to flee Ecuador, and she patiently explained it to me.

    On the one hand, I am guilty as charged for labelling her as a refugee. Her refugee experience which occurred 20 years ago is the way I describe and think of her now. On the other hand, my curiosity comes from a yearning to learn more and understand where she had come from.

    I imagine the WWII survivors were even more stigmatised in Australia post war as Australian society was much more homogenous than it is now.

    The impression that I got from the panellists was that they all wanted to belong and were making the most of their opportunities in Australia.

  • Neil says:

    “The Australian Jewish community is made up of a lot of ‘refugees’, and their descendants. It is incumbent upon us to accept the new refugees, acknowledge the positive contribution they make, and help them shed their label.”

    Australian Jews have a right to move to and gain citizenship in Israel. A country that many may not have even visited.

    It would be nice if the Arab Refugees driven from their homes/lands that now make up Israel, could return to their homes and lands in Israel.

    Given that their original homes/lands now fall within Israel, these people are arguably Israeli Arab Refugees. Their original homes/lands never existed in any other country.

    Food for thought?

    Time to let them go home?

    Best Wishes

  • frosh says:

    Neil,

    You wrote:

    “Australian Jews have a right to move to and gain citizenship in Israel. A country that many may not have even visited”

    Most of these Arab Refugees have not visited Israel.

    While you clearly think a binational state (a la Yugoslavia) is a good idea, most Arab-Israelis I’ve spoken too don’t even want this.

    I don’t understand why you seem to support these Arab host countries maitaining these people’s refugee status indefinitely (by refusing them citizenship).

    Unless of course all you really care about is the denial of Jewish self-determination! Couldn’t be, could it?

  • Neil says:

    Frosh
    And you think that Israel allows the Arab refugees access to Israel?

    I don’t think it is the same.

    Jews throughout the world have the right to move to Israel where many of their ancestors have never lived.

    The Arab Refugees are not allowed to live in Israel even though they, or their parents and ancestors lived there for many years.

    This position is racist and indefensible.

    It is not really up to the neighboring states to grant citizenship to the refugees unless that want to.

    International law states that Refugees have the right to return to their homes and lands as is normal for refugees. They are refugees from the land that is now Israel. These refugees are arguably Arab Israeli refugees as they have no other state to call home. What is so hard to understand that International Law, and UN resolutions, allows right of return. If Israel wanted the land, they should have taken the people.

    What is Jewish self-determination?

    An 80% Jewish state of Israel is based on David Ben Gurions pre-planned Plan Dalet which was intended to Ethnically Cleanse the Arabs from the land of Israel to stop a Bi-National state. Think about it. Israel would be a bi-national state today without the Ethnic Cleansing.

    Did Jewish self-determination really have to be based on Ethnic Cleansing?

    This cuts through to the Genesis of the problems in Israel/Palestine today. Think about it. Denying the truth of what happened is easier than to come to the conclusion that David Ben Gurion was a war criminal.

    Best Wishes

  • Eigthman says:

    There is no relationship between the difficulty encountered to get here and any right of entry. The premise of the SBS show was absurd.

    Refugee is the most abused term of the political lexicon. Everyone who starts a war and loses it is now considered by squealing leftists as a refugee. How so?

    Were the 13 million Germans forcibly repatriated after WWII refugees? Were the 3 million Sudeten Germans evicted from Chzekoslovakia considered refugees? Were the Japanese removed from Manchhuria, Korea or other Asian places considered refugees?

    The Jews of Europe started no wars, were disenfranchised and made stateless within places they had domiciled for over a 1000 yrs. in many cases longer than their overt majorities and were persecuted as an ideological political and socal exercise as had been the case in Europe for nearly 2000 yrs.

    Comparing Sri-Lankans or ‘palestinians’ or Afghans or Iraqis as ‘refugees’ in this context is an abomination and ridiculous.

    As if it was an English problem when France went into revolution. As if we have to bleed to change THEIR societies. If Egyptians, Tunisians or Libyians want change, let them bleed for it, what’s it got to do with us?

    Stupidly getting into a boat and undertaking a sea voyage in an un-seaworthy vessel does not make you a refugee – and the leftist agenda of saying so is in order to create psychological and actual chaos to further their attacks on national soivereignty and the removal of individual responsibility.

  • Eigthman says:

    Neil, run out of Nazi sites to post on?

    I’ve seen this crap before, trying to mess with our heads? It won’t work. Trying to paint Jews in the light of fascist propaganda, so presto, the Holocaust was justified and Christendom, Germany and the ‘White Race’ are exonerated and purified. It was really all a Jewish plot!!

    Yeah plan Dalet. Never mind arab plan Aleph, Beit and Gimmel for the Jews.

    Hey Neil if you need a reason (do you even know what a reason is?), try the arab pogroms of Jerusalem of 1929, try pro nazi Rashid Ali pogroms on Jews in Baghdad, try the arabs of the Jewish Mandate territories (except Jordan) siding with Nazi Germany (selling land to the Jews at inflated prices on the expectation of later expropriation when Rommel breaks through from Egypt – they already planned where to dig the pits!), try the SS Hanschar battalion of muslim VOLUNTEERS headed up by Haj Amin el Husseini (Arafat’s uncle) that murdered 60,000 Jews in the Baulkans and finally, try f**king yourself Neil.

    If arabs were really ethnically cleansed (and I would NOT believe anything you have to say on the any subject Neil) there would be no problem we have today (and b. it would not bother me a bit).

    If Jews behaved as did Neil’s (or Ahmed’s or Adolph’s) ilk none of these people would be around to present these current problems. But Neil, don’t worry that too is coming. When Europeans ethnically cleanse they have no real reason, they do it because they love to hate things. When the Jews will do it they will every reason in the world that is now well established by the incorrigible implacable behaviour of its object and if thats no good to you, then for no other reason that what arabs find good in their own eyes, what they plan, scheme and try to do to the Jews, so will be done unto them.

    Jewish self-determination Neil is partly based on YOUR ethnic cleansing of them in Europe and elsewhere. Its quaint how a racist invokes racism in their argument to justify and advance their own racism – a non-sequitor at its best.

    Neil why don’t you practise the same narrow self-serving absolutism that you preach (of course that is only reserved for Jews), get a life and give all your stolen holdings to Aboriginals and go back to wherever it is your line comes from? What is the European claim to Australia again, I forget?

    Oh yes of course, ‘best wishes’ to you as well.

  • Neil says:

    Eigthman
    (I’d Rather Fight Than Switch, Dr. Spectra!!)

    ” – squealing leftists
    – Comparing ‘palestinians’ in this context is an abomination and ridiculous.
    – let them bleed for it, what’s it got to do with us?
    – Neil, run out of Nazi sites to post on?
    – I’ve seen this crap before, trying to mess with our heads?
    try f**king yourself Neil.
    If arabs were really ethnically cleansed it would not bother me a bit</b?
    – If Jews behaved as did Neil’s ilk none of these people would be around
    – When Europeans ethnically cleanse they have no real reason, they do it because they love to hate things.
    – Jewish self-determination Neil is partly based on YOUR ethnic cleansing of them
    – Neil why don’t you practise the same narrow self-serving absolutism that you preach
    – get a life and give all your stolen holdings to Aboriginals and go back to wherever it is your line comes from?
    – Oh yes of course, ‘best wishes’ to you as well."

    Nice. . . Especially your "try f**king yourself Neil"

    So much anger.

    I have some information and a couple of questions for you.
    Some Current demographic figures/facts as background:
    – There are approximately 5.795 million Jews in Israel. (May 2011)
    – There were 4.7 million Arab refugees registered with the UN in 2010. These are the refugees and their descendants that “left” Israel in 1948/9 and 1967 during the creation of Israel and after the 1967 war. They would be in Israel today if they had not left. (Note – including the Golan as Israel said that they have annexed it) (note – that I do not say they were ethnically cleansed but that they just somehow left their homes and villages)
    – There are 1.571 million Arabs in Israel today. (May 2011)

    Conclusions
    1) That, without the movement of the Arabs in 1948/9 and 1967 (now refugees), there would be approximately 6.271 million Arabs within Israel today.

    2)That, without the movement of the Arabs (now refugees) there would be approximately equal numbers of Arabs and Jews in Israel today.

    My questions are reduced to simple concepts and are these, based on the facts above:
    1) Do you agree that without the Arab Population movement in 1948/49, there would be approximately equal numbers of Jews and Arabs in Israel today? Yes or No?

    2) Do you agree that: If there were approximately equal numbers of Jews and Arabs in Israel today, it would be by definition, a Bi-National State today? If not, what would you call it?

    Oh. I forgot. You say:
    If arabs were really ethnically cleansed it would not bother me a bit</b?

    I would still be interested in your answers to the questions though.

    Best Wishes

  • Eigthman says:

    There is no point to your questions. You avoid the unpleasant truths of my post. Why are these questions so important? ‘What if’ questions are not allowed in my political universe. What if Germany won the war?

    What if England had observed its League of Nations mandate and actually facilitated the establishment of a Jewish state rather than doing all in its power to frustrate its establishment for its own imperial ends?

    What if England had observed its obligations both moral and actual and permitted Jewish emigration into the Mandate from Europe?

    What if England had observed its obligations and not let and encouraged arab migration into the Mandate territories in order to foment trouble for the Jews and their enterprise so as to provide an excuse for continued British occupation?

    What if the arabs were properly dealt with as allies of Germany and suffered formal removal of lands, property and made to pay restitution?

    If all those arabs were not let in and all the Jews were let in, the numbers might be 10 million Jews to less than 1 million arabs? So bloody what?

    The point is your premise is illigitimate. You think that you can dispense with Jewish national rights because it offends your specious and specialist brand of morality, one reserved for Jews only.

    Your posts are meaningless and so transparently biased and anti-Semitic. Because there are 5 million arabs (that originate from Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and elsewhere) rotting away somewhere in those countries who because they waged aggressive war and lost it now think, like all fascists think, that any problem in the world, especially one of their own making, has a Jewish cause to it and whose remedy must also be extracted from the Jews.

    You blabber about what human rights are owed by Israel, why don’t you go and run this blabber in Syria or Saudia Arabia, Egypt and see where it gets you?

    As if the 17 million muslims evicted/transferred from India in 1947 are sitting in Pakistani camps numbering over 100 millions today lamenting their lost homes and territories in India and willing pawns in order to perpetuate that same war with India? And speaking of war losses how many wars do you think will be started in Europe if the Germans ever get the stupid gumption to make claims on Prussia (and the other 33% of (holy!) German territory ceded)?

    Prussia was German far longer than ‘palestine’ (i.e. Judea) was ever arab if it ever was, which I doubt. Mark Twain toured in that area in the late 19th century and described it as desolate and depopulated.

    Every aggressor loses territory and pays a price except it seems if you wage war against the Jews? In that case everything is kept in stasis (to give UN workers jobs) such that any war against the Jews is one that never ends and is never lost. We’ll see about that.

    Syria for example denies ethnic rights to a bunch of arabs called ‘palestinians’ and you blabber about this being a Jewish problem and what Israel must do? Where do you get the hide not to call yourself a hypocrite and anti-Semite?

    Oh and since when does ‘anger’ predicate a lack of cogency? As if a claim of anger is some sort of logical defect? You are so used to Jews being so ‘genteel’, co-operative, eager to conform? – slap the other cheek please? You think muslims are troublesome? You will wish you had the muslims back when the Jews are aroused in their righteous fury.

    I do not engage in debate with people like you. Post whatever you like. I will not answer. Liars do not make for fruitful debate or discussion nor is there any common ground with which to debate. There is no way you or other propagandists can mess with my head. I have nothing further to say to you.

Leave a comment!

You must be logged in to post a comment.