Sunday, July 8, 2012

Racism between migrant groups and refugees in Australia

A reader sent in an interesting article this week from Canberra, the capital of Australia.  Now, a little research before posting this article, here at we did a little research.

Canberra is a small town – about 350,000 people.  It’s the centre of political power in Australia, has the highest standard of living in Australia, it’s local government actively supports refugee resettlement programs, and most interesting to us, it has a similar proportion of its population holding graduate degrees (ie masters, Phds) as the rest of Australia has post-secondary education qualifications. 

It also rates in the world top-50 most liveable cities.  So in simple terms, it is a rich, exceptionally well-educated, professionally dominated small multicultural city.

So you’d think its attitudes would be light years away from the typical Australia “bogan” attitude as demonstrated best by the Shitney (sorry, Sydney) anti-Muslim riots in 2005.

Apparently not.  In this article, which can be found here a Catholic priest, a Vietnamese refugee who undoubtedly faced racism himself in Australia lambasted desperate asylum seekers who try and travel by boat to Australia to escape ethnic cleansing, sectarian violence and other horrors for the comparable safety of  a country with a generally tolerant majority but a big racist (but fortunately mostly not violent) minority called Australia.

So, Don Nguyen thinks that: “''In my time, identifying refugees was easier. I think a lot of people are playing games these days.''

Really? So, in the 1980s, a trip by boat from Vietnam with stops in Indonesia is different from an overland trip to get out of Afghanistan or Iraq, then flying to Malaysia then a boat trip to Australia via Indonesia how exactly?

Exactly how is that a less dangerous trip? Why was it easier?  He then goes on to say: ''I would love to have involvement with refugees. I have experienced how the refugee feels.''

To be fair, I think the article headline does not do justice to his stated aims of helping refugees.  But the key quote above does show that racism and xenophobia can rear its head in very different ways.

Here we have a Vietnamese refugee expressing what some would consider xenophobic view about the current influx of refugees into Australia.  Like most other countries that accept refugees (something most countries in SE Asian don’t), who comes is a result of conflicts in the region.  Still, if a Vietnamese refugee feels threatened by western-Asian migrants, what would the rest of Australia feel?

Strangely enough, outrage at his views.  The paper that published the article had a flurry of letters in response published, including this gem from one Gavin O'Brien who wrote:

I am extremely concerned at Deacon Don Nguyen's comment ('' Cleric wary of new wave of asylum seekers'', June 25, p4) that today's refugees ''are playing games''. So often we hear or read that these people may be communist agents or terrorists. I am a Vietnam veteran, I think I understand why these people flee persecution. I know some of these boat people and their stories, both from postwar Vietnam and some more recently fleeing from Sri Lanka and other war-torn countries.

Today's refugees are no different to the people that Don escaped from Vietnam with. Such ill-informed comments only serve to muddy the debate even more. Where is the Christian compassion and charity please?

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves.  Xenphobia and racism deserve no part in any nation.

Cleric wary of new wave of asylum seekers

He came to Australia as a refugee and recently Don Nguyen was ordained the seventh permanent deacon for the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn.
Mindful of his background, he would love to have involvement with refugees, but he urges caution.

''Refugees are of concern for the church and everyone,'' he said. ''But we have to deal with whether they are genuine refugees.'' The situation was now very complex. ''In my time, identifying refugees was easier. I think a lot of people are playing games these days.'' People claiming to be refugees could be terrorists or being used by communist regimes to expand their empires. ''We don't want to lose our freedom helping these people.'' But people in refugee camps, as opposed to those who could afford to pay to get to Australia, were very disadvantaged and had no protection.

''I would love to have involvement with refugees. I have experienced how the refugee feels.''

He was born in Vietnam in 1959 and came to Australia on October 21, 1981. The date is obviously significant to him. ''It is something I cannot forget.''

In Vietnam he was a swimming instructor. His wife, Jennifer, was a gymnastics instructor. They married two years after moving to Australia. ''We escaped together from Vietnam.'' This was in a small boat during a two-week hazardous voyage to Malaysia. ''We consider we were one of the lucky people. We experienced a lot of storm. There was a moment when we thought the boat would be sunk. Somehow we survived.''

They spent three months in a refugee camp before being accepted by Australia as refugees.

His mother was a Christian and his father a Buddhist. His father, brother and sister were killed in 1968 when the communists invaded from the north. On arrival in Australia with limited English he worked as a kitchen hand in Sydney.

Later, while working as a mail sorter with Australia Post, he studied electrical engineering and computing at Wollongong University. The combined pressure of work, study and the arrival of their first child meant he did not complete the degree.
In 1990 he joined the then Department of Social Security and about 10 years ago he moved to Canberra as part of a restructure of the department for which he worked.
He said he was an ordinary Christian with a Vietnamese community until invited to attend a Cursillo weekend. Cursillo is a Christian renewal movement established in Spain in 1944. With Kairos Ministry he visited inmates at Long Bay Jail.

He said his ordination as a deacon gave him more opportunities to serve the Church. He is not sure where it might lead. ''I just open myself to God and enter the unknown.''
As a deacon he can perform most priestly roles but not the sacraments of Eucharist, confession or anointing of the sick.
''I hope to be available when people need my service.''

Asylum seekers deserve same help as Vietnamese

I was appalled that Don Nguyen (''Cleric wary of new wave of asylum seekers'', June 25, p4) thought it appropriate to announce his appointment as deacon to the Catholic Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn by airing views on asylum seekers that are directly contrary to those of the Catholic Bishops Conference and many Catholics in his diocese.

Refugees from Vietnam benefited from Australia's involvement in the Comprehensive Plan of Action, an international effort to resettle refugees from Indochina, as well as the Orderly Departure Program Australia negotiated with the Vietnamese government.

Australian immigration officials sent to countries of first asylum processed people like Nguyen, and our government was sympathetic to the distress of those displaced by a war in which Australia had taken part.

No such national or international program has been established to resettle refugees who have fled to Pakistan and Iran from Afghanistan and Iraq, despite Australia's involvement in war in their countries. Desperate people with no alternatives risk dangerous boat journeys to claim asylum in Australia.

When Australia signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, we committed to treating such arrivals humanely while considering their claims for protection. The 2000 Vietnamese who arrived in Australia by boat from the late 1970s, were not detained and were granted permanent residence immediately on being found to be refugees. Current boat arrivals are detained for lengthy periods and granted only temporary visas on release into the community, gravely impeding their resettlement prospects. Nguyen's claims that asylum seekers could be terrorists or communist subversives are both ridiculous and un-Christian.
Ann-Mari Jordens, Red Hill

I am extremely concerned at Deacon Don Nguyen's comment ('' Cleric wary of new wave of asylum seekers'', June 25, p4) that today's refugees ''are playing games''. So often we hear or read that these people may be communist agents or terrorists. I am a Vietnam veteran, I think I understand why these people flee persecution. I know some of these boat people and their stories, both from postwar Vietnam and some more recently fleeing from Sri Lanka and other war-torn countries.

Today's refugees are no different to the people that Don escaped from Vietnam with. Such ill-informed comments only serve to muddy the debate even more. Where is the Christian compassion and charity please?
Gavin O'Brien, Gilmore

I disagree with both Labor and the Coalition's respective positions on asylum seekers, but the time has come for all of us to put aside opinions and demand that our politicians find a solution.
Surely somewhere in the self-interest that forms the soul of modern politics, there remains a remnant of bi-partisanship that will put the lives of desperate people ahead of ambition.
Bart Meehan, Calwell

May I suggest that if our politicians are unable to reach a joint decision on the handling of asylum seekers arriving by boat by Wednesday of next week, then as many as possible people of Australia gather in Canberra, place the Federal Parliament under siege and only let the pollies out when a decision has been reached.
John Bonnett, Belconnen

Once again we are supposed to sit back as a nation and cop it when a boatload of illegal immigrants founders in another people-smuggling attempt to reach Australia.
I simply ask why we are not seeing articles indicating the Indonesian ambassador has been ''called in'' and given an absolute rocket by the Gillard government, as an indication of growing Australian disgust at his government's overt complicity in criminal people smuggling by allowing the craft to sail in the first place.
Michael Doyle, Fraser

Violence in Burma: oppression of Rohingya Muslims

A great article was published this week highlighting the plight of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.  The article can be found here.

Whilst the violence has a religious aspect to it, it is also deeply rooted in ethnic stereotypes.  Rampant hatred by the ruling elite (Ko Ko Gyi, who played a key role in the 1988 democratic uprising has not been particularly elegant in describing them) must be understood against the background of a genocidal campaign against them in the lat 70s and early 80s.

The International Crisis Group explained they conflict in these terms:

“The sheer level of racism against them in Burmese society, enforced by a government policy of discrimination and abuse, lies at the core of the matter.”

A full copy of the article is reproduced below for your convenience and for research purposes.


Burma's ethnic hatred
July 8, 2012
Hanna Hindstrom

The recent brutal religious violence in Burma's western Arakan state has cast a shadow on the country's democratic progress. Dozens of people have been killed and hundreds of homes destroyed as Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims clash near the Bangladeshi border in the country's worst sectarian violence in decades.
Even more shocking than the violence has been the public outpouring of vitriol aimed at the Rohingya, the stateless minority group at the centre of the conflict.

Considered ''illegal Bengali immigrants'' by the government, they are denied citizenship and are widely despised within Burmese society. Anti-Rohingya views have swept both social and mainstream media, seemingly uniting politicians, human rights activists, journalists, and civil society across Burma's myriad ethnic groups.
''The so-called Rohingya are liars,'' one pro-democracy group said on Twitter. ''We must kill all the kalar,'' another social media user said. Kalar is a racial slur applied to dark-skinned people from the Indian subcontinent.

Burmese refugees, who themselves have fled persecution, gathered at embassies around the world to protest against the ''terrorist'' Rohingya invading their homeland. Even the prominent student leader Ko Ko Gyi, who played a key role in the 1988 democratic uprising, lambasted them as impostors and frauds.

No doubt Burma's nascent media freedom has played a key role in stirring up religious tensions. Vast swaths of inflammatory misinformation are circulating inside Burma, with mainstream media largely accusing al-Qaeda and ''illegal Bengali terrorists'' of staging the violence in a bid to spread Islam in Asia. Many allege that the Rohingya are burning their own houses to attract attention.

One newspaper published a graphic photograph of the corpse of Thida Htwe, a Buddhist woman whose rape and murder - allegedly by three Muslim men - instigated the violence, prompting the President, Thein Sein, to suspend the publication using censorship laws.

These are the same papers that in recent months have openly criticised the government for the first time since a nominally civilian administration took over last year.
Ironically, this freedom has also led to a virulent backlash against foreign and exiled media, who have reported on the plight of the Rohingya, described by the United

Nations as one of the world's most persecuted groups.
Following the latest violence, a number of online campaigns have been set up to co-ordinate attacks against news outlets that dare to report on the Rohingya's plight. Angry protesters rallied in Rangoon this week, brandishing signs reading ''Bengali Broadcast Corporation'' and ''Desperate Voice of Bengali''.

The latter was a reference to this reporter's employer, the Democratic Voice of Burma, the Norwegian broadcaster that has made a name for itself among many Burmese as one of the most reliable sources of information about their country.
Recently the broadcaster faced the biggest attack on its website in its history, and its Facebook page is still under constant assault from people issuing threats and posting racist material.

As the International Crisis Group explains, the violence is both a consequence of, and a threat to, Burma's political transition.

The ongoing crisis illustrates the need for Burma to embrace not only independent, but also responsible and inclusive, journalism. To facilitate this transition, the government must take concrete steps to address the underlying dispute about the Rohingya. The sheer level of racism against them in Burmese society, enforced by a government policy of discrimination and abuse, lies at the core of the matter.
A politician from the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party has called for a ''king dragon operation'', the name for a 1978 military operation run by the dictator General Ne Win to stamp out the Rohingya population from Northern Arakan state.

Meanwhile, reports of army complicity in attacks on Muslim homes are growing after a state of emergency was declared last month. The immigration minister, Khin Yi, has again reiterated that ''there are no Rohingya in Burma,'' while Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy continues to carefully sidestep the hot-button issue.
State media has also fanned tensions by using the racial slur kalar in their official appeal for calm after 10 Muslim pilgrims were murdered to avenge Htwe's death.
While the government has taken ostensible steps to calm the violence, including publishing a retraction for the racial slur, it is far from sufficient. Neither is invoking draconian censorship laws a viable solution.
There must be a rational public debate on the future of the Rohingya minority in Burma.

The issue is sensitive and complex, but it cannot be ignored. Political leaders, especially Thein Sein and Aung San Suu Kyi, along with the international community, have an obligation to drive this process. A failure to do so threatens to unravel Burma's democratic reform at a time when it cannot afford to regress.

Courtesy of Foreign Policy

Sunday, June 24, 2012

We're making a comeback

Sorry for being down for so long - children, jobs and moving countries have gotten in the way.  We'll be resuming normal service soon highlighting racism by Asians against Asians and other people (as well as racism against Asians - a new focus for this blog).  But in the meantime, enjoy this clip from South Park that highlights some of the common stereotypes between Chinese and Japanese and provides a good insight into the stereotypes applied by American to Asians of various backgrounds.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Racism in Mongolia

Back from an extended break. Interesting article on how anti-Chinese racism is springing up on Mongolia. The original article can be found here. An extract is included below.

Chinese investment in Mongolia: An uneasy courtship between Goliath and David

February 2nd, 2011

Author: Justin Li, ICE

Sinophobia on the steppes

High dependence on China for trade and investment is causing an unprecedented wave of Sinophobia in Mongolia. This fear has been driven by geopolitical fear, historical legacy and sometimes open racism. Sandwiched between two former imperial masters, Mongolia’s landlocked geography can be described as nothing but a geopolitical nightmare for its leaders. Its national strategy is often a case of a depressing choice between the lesser of two evils. It is understandable that vast and sparsely populated Mongolia, at the doorstep of an emerging superpower, is anxious for anxiety’s sake itself.

The imperial legacy of China still lingers in the minds of some Mongolians and this landlocked country only gained independence from China as late as 1921. Ironically, Taiwan still officially recognises Mongolia as part of its official territory, and it is not uncommon to hear mainland Chinese refer to Mongolia as ‘outer Mongolia’, a dated name alluding to its status as a former imperial possession of China.

The influx of Chinese businessmen and labourers is also provoking racial tension in the country. Whether it be disapproval of Chinese migrant labourers’ behaviour as unhygienic, or Chinese businessmen’s behaviour as philandering, many Mongolians feel alienated by the arrival of large numbers of Chinese. Consequently, anti-China themes are rapidly capturing the airwaves and newspaper headlines, from unfounded allegations of rape and pillage to more justified concerns over Chinese disregard for industrial relations laws and regulations. Chinese construction workers are fast becoming random victims of Mongolian neo-Nazis, and some Mongolian politicians are more than happy to jump on the anti-Chinese bandwagon to attract popular votes.

Justin Li is principal of the Institute of Chinese Economics and an associate of EAF.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Racism in India: Pt2

In the second part of a special series on racism in India, this article examines how the Indian media actively perpetrates racist perceptions of Africans, and how Indian society treats Africans that are present in India. The original article can be found here

Why Do Black African Racial Stereotypes Persist in India?
By Madhur Singh / New Delhi Friday, Jun. 18, 2010

African-Indian bonhomie was all the rage in India's media last week, amid celebratory coverage of homegrown telecom company Airtel's $10.7 billion acquisition of Kuwaiti company Zain's African operations and TV images of Indian visitors blowing vuvuzelas at soccer's World Cup in South Africa. Amid all the backslapping, however, an African student in India who runs a news and current-affairs website from the city of Bhopal accused companies like Coca-Cola of airing racist commercials on Indian TV that portrayed Africans as primitive savages.
"Indian marketers have a field day in putting 'blacks' where they've always 'belonged,' at least in the average Indian mind-sets," wrote S.K.Y. Banji, an Ugandan who has lived in India for more than four years and runs His comments were endorsed by fellow Africans who posted on the site, sharing their own experiences of racism in India, and soon Banji's concerns were being aired in segments of the mainstream media. Yet there was hardly any public outcry, and none of the companies have issued apologies.

One of the commercials in question, for Coca-Cola's Sprite — which a Coca-Cola spokesperson says was received "very positively" by a test audience in India — shows two young Indian men captured by savages in an African jungle. While one of them tries to win over the captors by doing a silly jig, the other simply offers them Sprite. "There is nothing offensive in this ad," says Martha Wariithi, a Kenyan by birth who is the director of knowledge and insights for Coca-Cola's India and South West Asia unit. "It's lighthearted ... It fits very well for the positioning for Sprite in the market."

The Indian lemon drink LMN, produced by the Parle Agro corporation, has a blatantly racist subtext in its TV spot that shows two Africans digging in the sand for water. When they spot a tap nearby, they wrench it off and start using it as a shovel. Parle Agro would not comment to TIME on the commercial.
Another spot, for BP's Castrol engine oil, shows two young Indian men being magically transported from place to place: a beach, a lion-infested jungle — and a cauldron being carried by smiling African cannibals. BP has not responded to TIME's queries despite indicating it would do so.

The Castrol ad is for contests that can take winners to South Africa for the World Cup, and Coca-Cola is an official sponsor of the event, which aims to showcase Africa in a new light. It speaks to Indian society, long the subject of British Empire stereotyping, as it struggles to adapt to the cultural challenges of its status as an emerging power in a globalized world economy.

"It's amazing how two global companies, in an age of YouTube and Twitter, can think they can get away with such blatantly racist advertising," says Hari Krishnan, vice president at the Delhi office of ad agency JWT. "Perhaps it's just a matter of time before they hear from their global headquarters." But there hasn't been much of an outcry against the commercials in a country whose people have themselves been victims of racism. Indeed, many Indians do not see the advertisements as racist or offensive. Despite their experience with prejudice abroad even today, most Indians seem prone to accept easy generalizations about other peoples and cultures.
"These ads could never be aired in the U.S.," says Diepiriye Kuku, a Delhi-based Nigerian-American conflict-resolution consultant who blogs on his exposure to prejudice in India, a country he says is decades behind the U.S. in addressing racial issues.
Kuku wrote an article titled "India Is Racist and Happy About It" in a leading Indian newsmagazine last year. In a post on his blog, he recounts a visit to a zoo: while he was watching a giraffe, some 50-odd families stopped in their tracks to stare at him. "But," he points out, "Indians don't only stereotype foreigners. They stereotype other Indians too." Indeed, racism against northeastern Indians — whose features often have more in common with those of people in countries farther east and who are the subject of various myths about their sexuality — is widely documented. And the fact that skin-lightening creams are one of the fastest-growing product lines in India's cosmetics sector reflects an obsession with fair skin.

But globalization has opened the doors of the world to many Indians, allowing them to experience other cultures not simply through movies and TV portrayals but by traveling abroad and interacting with foreigners in work and academic environments. "I believe the next decade is going to belong to Africa," Sunil Bharti Mittal, founder and chairman of Airtel, said in an interview after sealing the Zain deal that made Airtel the world's fifth biggest telecom operator. In India, that may take some getting used to.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Racism in India

Long time no publish, but that is due to change soon. Below is an article that will re-appear in the special section on racism in India. Fascinating look at racism and discrimination in bolywood, which of course begs the question: if actresses from India were treated the same way in the UK, what would be the outcome?

Original article can be found here

White British actresses told to leave Bollywood

British actresses who appear in Bollywood films are being targeted in a hate campaign by one of India's most feared political leaders.

By Dean Nelson in New Delhi
Published: 5:55PM GMT 17 Mar 2010

Stars including Alice Patten, the daughter of Lord Patten of Barnes, and Hazel Crowney, a former model from Kent, have been accused of stealing jobs from local girls.

Raj Thackeray's Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), a Mumbai nationalist street gang and political party which inspires terror throughout the city, has called on foreign white actresses to go home.

His campaign for a ban on the estimated 1,000 British and other foreign actors who regularly appear in Bollywood films has been widely criticised but many foreign actors are too afraid to speak out.

Thackeray is especially feared in Bollywood, where he has the power to shut productions and close cinemas.The campaign for a ban comes as increasing numbers of European and South American actresses are finding roles in Bollywood movies.
In the last few years, Kylie Minogue and Denise Richards have appeared in major Indian films. Miss Patten starred in Rang De Basanti, one of the most popular Bollywood films of recent years, while Minogue appeared in a raunchy song and dance scene called Chiggy Wiggy in the film Blue with action hero Akshay Kumar.

It has also become increasingly common for Hollywood stars like Sylvester Stallone and Superman star Brandon Routh to take cameo roles in Bollywood productions to boost their appeal. This international approach could now be threatened because producers and directors fear Raj Thackeray will ruin their films if they do not comply.

The campaign to ban foreign actors was launched last week after the MNS raided a the set of Crooked, starring Amitabh Bachchan, India's most famous star, and demanded to see the work permits of 136 foreign actors and actresses. The MNS holds seats in the Mumbai region but its strength comes from its activists who are regarded by many as violent street thugs.

Its supporters have launched violent attacks on rickshaw drivers from other parts of India and threatened organisations which retain the name 'Bombay' instead of 'Mumbai.' Shalini Thackeray, an MNS leader, said: "Why can't our Indian actors dance with locals? We will insist that only local junior artists should be employed.

"We will check whether they have valid permits. Many times, foreigners come here on tourist visas, but take up work in Bollywood."

She was supported by one of Bollywood's top dancers, Rakhi Sawant, who said: "Because of these foreigners, our Indian girls remain jobless. These white girls are like lollipops that only last for two days." Vir Singhvi, one of India's leading commentators, said the party was using the issue to win over Mumbai's women voters who have so far shunned the MNS.

"The MNS says [these dance scenes] are against Indian traditions, vulgar and cheap. They do this to get women's votes because women object to half-naked dancers, but it's not enough of an issue for women to change their minds," he said.
Leading Indian film director Jag Mundra last night criticised the campaign and said it could push up costs and force film-makers to shoot more scenes overseas. To save money, directors usually hire attractive backpackers passing through Mumbai and shoot dance scenes in local clubs or film sets.

"The reason producers pick white girls is because a lot of them have better figures and are willing to expose them," he said.
"If you need a bikini shot, not many Indian girls are willing to turn up in a string bikini. But most white girls will not have an issue with that. Titillation has been an important part of Bollywood."