Asylum seekers 'illegals': Rhetoric isn’t helping refugees' cause

SAY WHAT?: Sister Mary Trainor reflects on the power of langauage to unite and divide, uplift and belittle. Photo: FILE PHOTO
SAY WHAT?: Sister Mary Trainor reflects on the power of langauage to unite and divide, uplift and belittle. Photo: FILE PHOTO

Language is a many-faceted thing which we all use millions of times in a lifetime.

There is, of course, the language of our country of origin, which may not be Australian, but that barely touches the surface of what the word means.

Language is a conduit through which we convey ideas and sentiments, hopes and dreams, fears and frustrations, and, less wisely, anger, hatred, resentment, bitterness, prejudice, misinformation and belittling expletives, just to name a few.

Each one of us is responsible for the way we use language both in public and in private, and requires us to exercise respect and right judgment, aware of the time and the place where we are speaking, and who will be listening or reading our words.

Lately, there seems to have been more misuse of language in our Parliaments than is good for anyone.

Of all places, Parliament ought to be a place where respect, personal privacy and good manners reigns.

The language used regarding refugees and asylum seekers by people who ought to be well informed leaves a good deal to be desired.

A queue jumper needs a queue to begin with. Without one, there is nothing to jump.

As for illegals – the very term implies criminality rather than a journey in desperation to find a safe place to live.

With the changes to the support systems for people awaiting resolution of their citizenship applications, the words bludgers and cheats are being used without adequate basis for such judgmental labelling.

This also applies to people who remain unemployed, even through no fault of their own.

The recent proposal to upgrade the level of English speaking for migrants and those seeking Australian citizenship to a level which only the best educated people bred and born here might understand can hardly be described as sensible.

Yes, speaking the language and understanding it needs its feet on the ground and not its head in the clouds.                                                                                               

Here in Australia we have many phrases and sayings that are uniquely ours, and no one would suggest they be deleted from the national vocabulary.

However, the increasing public usage of expletives and vulgar, rude slang could do with some control.

I imagine it would be extremely difficult for someone whose birth language is neither English nor Australian to separate the sheep from the goats.

Opportunities for assistance with the language are increasingly available through the voluntary service of teachers able and willing to help.

Another great service being provided is interpreters both for the spoken languages and for the deaf community.

However we use it, let us use it wisely and well, and assist where we can.

I want to finish on a thoughtful note by quoting Pastor Niemoller.

“In Germany they first came for the Communists. I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews. I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Catholics. I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no-one was left to speak up.