IMMIGRATION authorities warned the Fraser government in 1976 it was accepting too many Lebanese Muslim refugees without “the required qualities” for successful integration.
The Fraser cabinet was also told many of the refugees were unskilled, illiterate and had questionable character and standards of personal hygiene.
Cabinet documents released today by the National Archives under the 30-year rule reveal how Australia’s decision to accept thousands of Lebanese Muslims fleeing Lebanon’s 1976 civil war led to a temporary collapse of normal eligibility standards.
The emergence of the documents raises the question of whether the temporary relaxation might have contributed to contemporary racial tensions in Sydney’s southwest, which exploded a year ago into race-based riots in Cronulla.
Former prime minister Malcolm Fraser rejected yesterday any link and said modern Muslim youth felt alienated because governments had not done enough to help them integrate into the general community.
“I suspect the schools weren’t equipped (and) I suspect the communities weren’t equipped,” Mr Fraser told The Australian.
But demographer Bob Birrell said the relatively depressed nature of Sydney’s Muslim community could easily be linked to the lack of education and work skills of the 1970s migrants.
John Howard was accused of inflaming public hatred towards the Islamic community last February when he warned that aspects of Muslim culture posed an unprecedented challenge for Australia’s immigration program.
The Prime Minister said while he remained confident the overwhelming majority of Muslims would be successfully integrated, there were unique problems that previous intakes of migrants from Europe and Asia did not have.
“I do think there is this particular complication because there is a fragment which is utterly antagonistic to our kind of society, and that is a difficulty,” he toldThe Australian then.
“You can’t find any equivalent in Italian, Greek, or Lebanese, or Chinese or Baltic immigration to Australia. There is no equivalent of raving on about jihad, but that is the major problem.
“I think some of the associated attitudes towards women (are also) a problem.”
Mr Fraser’s first full year in office, revealed in the papers released today, saw a frenzy of decision-making, with the cabinet making more than 2000 decisions and receiving more than 50,000 pages in submissions – twice the workload shouldered the year before by the Whitlam government.
Troubled by a deteriorating economy, the government unleashed a razor gang to slash spending. The abrupt ideological shift from free-wheeling Labor idealism to economically dour conservatism triggered cabinet policy tensions and an epic battle between Mr Fraser and the bureaucracy on economic policy.
In September 1976, as a humanitarian response to the civil war raging at the time between Lebanese Christians and Muslims, cabinet agreed to relax rules requiring immigrants to be healthy, of good character and to have a work qualification.
BELOW PHOTOS THAT I’VE COLLECTED OF THE ATTACK ON THE CHRISTIAN COUNTRY OF LEBANON.
The war claimed 50,000 lives and displaced 600,000 people, many of whom fled to Cyprus, where Australia set up processing facilities in the capital, Nicosia.
Australia accepted 4000 Lebanese immigrants in 1976.
A cabinet submission of November 30 called for a return to the normal arrangements. The Fraser government boosted immigration numbers from 55,000 in 1975-76 to 70,000 in 1976-77.
Mr Fraser told The Australian that cabinet had relaxed entry qualifications as a humanitarian response to the Lebanese civil war in line with Australia’s international responsibilities.
He said it would be wrong to assert that current tensions in the Muslim community came about because his government had allowed “bad people” to enter the country.
Current racial tensions related to people born in Australia – not the immigrant refugees, he said.
“From my point of view, I think the education system and the community have got to take a pretty fair part of the blame (for current problems),” Mr Fraser said. “If there were known to be problems in relation to the Lebanese, maybe the very pertinent question is: why weren’t some special efforts made to ward off future difficulties?”
Immigration minister Michael MacKellar told colleagues in 1976 officials had cited concerns about health and character requirements, personal qualities and the migrants’ ability to integrate.
Whereas earlier Lebanese intakes had involved an even split of Christians and Muslims, the submission said 90 per cent of the migrants were Muslims and that a high percentage were illiterate and unskilled.
The officials had warned that many refugees were misrepresenting their background during interviews in “deliberate attempts to conceal vital information”, Mr MacKellar reported.
And he said most of the applicants were being sponsored by relatives living in Sydney’s southwest, where overcrowding was emerging along with evidence that husbands were leaving wives and children “without adequate support” to travel to Lebanon seeking displaced relatives.
The Commonwealth Employment Service and Department of Social Security had reported difficulties at Campsie, in Sydney’s southwest, which had a high proportion of migrants. Half were unemployed, and local schools were reporting fears they would run out of classrooms.
Cabinet agreed with Mr MacKellar and authorised him to issue a press release attributing the decision on curbing the intake to concerns about a lack of work opportunities for the migrants.
Mr Fraser said he would be surprised if no mistakes had been made by immigration officials over the years, but that Australia had “done pretty well” out of therefugee intakes from areas of civil conflict.
Dr Birrell, who heads Monash University’s Centre for Population and Urban Research, said a study last year had shown Lebanese Muslims in southwest Sydney were less well-off economically than Lebanese Christians.
Dr Birrell said this reflected the lack of work skills and education of many of the refugees who arrived in the 1970s.
PS: As you can tell a picture tells a thousand word’s. This is what happened to Lebanon a welcoming democratic Christian country!
ALL COUNTRIES *WILL FACE* CIVIL WAR AGAINST ISLAM. IT IS A MILITARY AND POLITICAL IDEOLOGY FIRST AND FOREMOST.
BELOW LINK: HISTORY ON LEBANON’S MUSLIM TAKE OVER.