Last night SBS aired their new three part series Go Back To Where You Came From, where six Aussies take part in a 'reverse refugee' experience.
I think most viewers would agree that it was particularly interesting to watch the participant's reactions to meeting refugees and visiting detention centres. Participants are from quite different backgrounds, and they have a variety of opinions on refugee policy.
The show apparently has twitter all a buzz, and is generating quite a deal of media commentary. Much of the reaction focuses on the apparent ignorance of one particular participant to the real situation of refugees - especially in light of their strong opinions on the matter.
My wife suggested that there was a clear pattern in the participant's attitudes - those with broad travel experience seem to have more tolerant views. It was telling that a couple of participants had never left Australia before the show.
What I found missing from the show, which would have been a nice complement to the emotional dimension, is reference to the actual statistics on refugees, their country of origin, the proportion coming by boat, and the changes in refugee numbers over time.
This is important because the public debate usually overlooks a couple of key points.
1. Boat people are a minority of asylum seekers and a tiny fraction of total immigration (graph below from here)
2. The number of asylum seeker arriving in Australia correlates strongly with global numbers, suggesting that it is not so much the policy of the destination country that influences the number of arrivals, but the situation in the country of origin (see the graph below).
this detailed article. I look forward to the follow up episodes tonight and tomorrow, and recommend the program to anyone even slightly interested in the topic.