Is it a migration crisis?

‘It’s not a crisis of migration.

It’s a crisis of cooperation.’

This was the assessment of Dr Alan Gamlen, senior lecturer at the University of Wellington, as he delivered the Graeme Hugo Memorial Lecture in Adelaide last month. In his opening remarks, Dr Gamlen paraphrased something once said by Professor Graeme Hugo AO: Migration is an age-old pattern, not a crisis.

Since ancient times people have moved for all sorts of reasons: personal and political, voluntary and involuntary. The view that polical exiles move because they have to, while economic migrants move because they want to, is inaccurate in a world where people risk their lives because they nothing more to lose.

The worse thing we can do is to feel awful and think: ‘I can do nothing’. That is a lie; we can always do something. Asylum seekers, displaced people, foreign workers, and aliens are all around the world – Bangladeshis on Malaysian construction sites, Burmese carers in Singaporean hospices, Persian children in Australian schools. There is much we can do locally. We could, for example, cook a pot of chicken curry, donate a raffle prize, arrange tables and chairs, or sing a few songs.

These are some of the things that people in Adelaide did in response to asylum seeker dental needs in their community. It was part of a fundraising dinner at Hope’s Cafe. The day before the event, numbers swelled from an expected 180 to 250 diners. The old church hall, then smaller cafe hall and eventually the church grounds were used to seat everyone. A dentist is going to open his clinic one day a month for asylum seekers, giving discounts to so that the funds raised can go further.

International Night at Hope's Cafe

International Night at Hope’s Cafe

Whatever our station in life, whatever our skills, there is always something we can do. Cooperation among the willing means that the whole exceeds the sum of its parts. Working together stretches finite resources and makes possible what we cannot achieve alone.

Empathy without agency creates apathy; empathy with agency creates change.

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