Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Australia's response to asylum seekers: We could learn a lot from Winnie the Pooh

I was preparing a lecture during the week for a Children's Literature unit that I'm running, and it struck me how a scene from AA Milne's Winnie the Pooh perfectly encapsulates Australia's response to asylum seekers:

'Nobody seemed to know where they came from, but there they were in the Forest: Kanga and Baby Roo. When Pooh asked Christopher Robin, “How did they come here?” Christopher Robin said, “In the Usual Way, if you know what I mean, Pooh.”

Here – we – are – all – of – us and then, suddenly, we wake up one morning and what do we find? We find a Strange Animal among us. An animal of whom we had never even heard before! An animal who carries her family about with her in her pocket! Suppose I [Rabbit] carried my family about with me in my pocket, how many pockets should I want?" ...

[Piglet asked,] “The question is, What are we to do about Kanga?”'

The animals then contrive to get the Strange Animal to leave their insular Hundred Acre Wood, by kidnapping her child and planning to give him back only if she promises to leave. It's really quite a sinister plot!

Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl and Rabbit are all quintessentially English, but the Strange Animal from the 'colonies' is constructed as a 'problem' that the English toys need to solve. They are somewhat afraid of her, as apparently she is a Fierce Animal as well despite the fact that as a soft toy she cannot hurt them. Their fear is based solely on the fact that she comes from an unknown land and behaves differently.

Australia's response to asylum seekers is troublingly similar. Most Australians know little about the countries refugees come from, but many are quick to judge them as a threat to be kept out at all costs. 

While we haven't gone so far as to kidnap children, we are currently shipping asylum seekers off to Papua New Guinea, where those refugees who are being persecuted because of their sexuality will face more discrimination, as it is illegal in PNG.

Pooh, Piglet and co. soon come to accept the Strange Animals as friends, with Kanga teaching her new friend Pooh how to jump. Although the animals react similarly when the equally Strange Tigger arrives, they soon become friends with him too. 

Perhaps Australia could take some lessons from the animals of the Hundred Acre Wood and revise its asylum seeker policy.

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