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Refugees have no choice. You do.

By Jarrod Strauch, Oxfam intern

It’s that simple.

Refugees don’t choose to leave their homes because they feel like a change of scenery; they don’t decide the job market’s a bit thin and strike out for greener pastures. Refugees are forced out of their homes because they fear persecution in their home countries, or because their home itself has been wiped out by a natural disaster.

At the end of 2011, there were 15.2 million refugees housed in countries that were not their home because they had no choice but to escape. That’s two thirds of Australia’s population: 66 refugees, displaced and looking for a home, to every 100 people living here. In comparison, Australia hosts 0.11 refugees to every 100 people living here.

Globally, Australia is hardly suffering a flood of refugees.  Australia hosts just 0.2% of the global refugee population. We are ranked 69th in the world when countries are ranked according to refugee intake relative to population. Compared to our one refugee to every thousand inhabitants, the United States hosts six; the United Kingdom hosts eight; Canada hosts eighteen.

We can work to change this, because unlike those fleeing terror and war, you do have a choice.

Refugee Week 2012 runs from Sunday 17 June to Saturday 23 June. Its theme is “Restoring Hope”, a reminder that refugees often leave their homes with nothing but the hope of finding a better life in another country – and a reminder that so many refugees find themselves discriminated against because they didn’t wait to sort out their paperwork before fleeing for their lives.

There are a number of things you can do to try and improve the lives of refugees and help them in their quest to find a better life in Australia:

Be part of the conversation

The dialogue about refugees coming to Australia is dominated by negativity and suspicion. By engaging in the public debate with a positive, constructive message, you can help change the minds of those listening. Fight misinformation with the facts. A Just Australia provides information for those trying to fight against Australian myths about “asylum seekers” – try this fact sheet as a crash course, or this one for a more detailed look.

Walk Together as Australians

On Saturday June 23, Australians will come together and walk as a community in support of a united future. We can make a difference by showing our support for an Australia that welcomes those who come here instead of treating them with suspicion and hostility. Events have been organised in major cities around Australia – details here.

Let your local Member of Parliament know what you think

Our political system isn’t designed for parties to dictate policy to us. MPs are meant to represent their community and give them a voice in Parliament, but they can only do that if they know what to say. Contact your MP and tell them that you support an Australia that treats refugees with fairness and dignity and an Australia that helps protect the rights of refugees in other countries.

Oxfam works to ensure that the systems and laws designed to protect refugees are doing what they’re supposed to. We advocate that anyone in crisis has the right to asylum, the right to obtain assistance, and the right to be protected from abuse – and we advocate that governments and the international community have a responsibility to help protect these rights.

We have the ability, both during Refugee Week and every single day, to help refugees and people in crisis situations all around the world. Make the choice for those who can’t.

Find out more

Read more about Oxfam’s work with refugees