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Hypothetical: What would you do if . . . ? (Part One)

Geoffrey Robertson’s recent appearance on Q and A reminded me of the value of considering a situation through the eyes of another via a hypothetical situation…

Here’s one to have a go at by:

  1. Reading the Hypothetical (and extremely fictional) story.
  2. Considering the three options.
  3. Checking out the ‘Things to consider’ section. And then….
  4. Voting for the option you would choose if you were walking in this person’s shoes.
    (And of course, if you are so inclined – post a comment below the article with the
    reasons you selected a particular option.)

Let’s get the conversation started….

1. Hypothetical (and extremely fictional) story:

It’s early 2016. Sticking with his promise to continue with Abbott’s policies on climate change, Malcolm Turnbull and his new Immigration Minister share a ‘private’ Joke about our Pacific Island neighbours soon being underwater. In keeping with tradition, they do this in front of a microphone while waiting for a press conference to start and their joke is broadcast to the world.

Once they realise they’ve been heard, they immediately apologise PDuddy-style, saying “We’re sorry some of you didn’t find our joke funny.”

When the President of Kiribati hears about this, he is furious. “Let’s see how Australians like losing their country” he shouts and storms out to Kiribati’s little known [because it’s fictional] nuclear missile launch base. With the press of a few large red buttons marked ‘Danger’ and ‘Are you really sure?”, he launches a nuclear strike on all Australia’s major cities.

Within an hour, just over 80% of Australia’s population is wiped out, and nuclear fallout threatens the remaining 20% by turning Australia into a nuclear wasteland.

The only Australian Territory not impacted by the attack is Christmas Island. Luckily the ABC regional radio network withstood the blast, and regional broadcasters advise that all surviving Australians should make their way to a specific list of small ports around the Australian coastline where Australian naval vessels will collect survivors and transport you to Christmas Island. The UNHCR is on there way to Christmas Island and will be setting up tents for survivors to live in.

You, your partner and kids were holidaying at a coastal resort up north when the missiles hit. The resort is a long way from any major cities, so you survived the blast and haven’t yet felt any effects. But you know that your home in Perth is gone – blown to pieces. And with nuclear fallout spreading across the country, you need to start working out what you and your family are going to do next.

Then you learn that the US is sending in planes to pick up American survivors who are also staying at the same resort as you. Some of them suggest that you and your family should go back to the USA with them. But having left your passports at home, you’d have to go without the proper travel documents and claim asylum once you reached America. You have no idea whether they would accept you since they, like Australia, are not all that keen on people seeking refuge in their country. And as all Australian banks have been wiped out, and Australian currency now has no value, you would head there with no money and no way to support yourself and your family.

2. Your options

Option one : Stay where you are – in the coastal resort, and try and make a living there. But if nuclear fallout doesn’t get you, it’s possible that further attacks from the irritated Kiribati President will.

Option two: Make your way to one of the designated departure ports and go to Christmas island. But you’ve already been warned that there may be as many as four million people there – all trying to fit into 135 square kilometers. Plus, there’s no guarantee Kiribati won’t try to finish the job and attack Christmas Island at a later date.

Option three: Try and sneak onto one of the US planes sent to rescue American citizens, and hope you can get to America and seek asylum there, knowing that they may very well turn you around and send you back. Or lock you up in a Detention Centre.

3. Things to consider – stories from the real world

In the real world, being forced to flee your home due to war or conflict is not hypothetical for many people – it is very real. In fact, in 2014 some 42,500 people per day were forced to flee their homes in order to seek safety elsewhere.

Unsurprisingly, just as most Australians love Australia, and would be reluctant to leave here – many people who are forced by conflict to flee their homes stay in their national country and try to find somewhere safer, hoping that one day they can return to their home town/city.

At the end of 2014, according to the UNHCR there were 38.2 million people who had fled their homes but stayed in their home country. They are classified by the UN as Internally Displaced People or ‘IDP’s.

TOPSHOTS A Kurdish Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of the town of Kobane, also known as Ain al-Arab, on March 25, 2015. Islamic State (IS) fighters were driven out of Kobane on January 26 by Kurdish and allied forces. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

A Syrian woman walks with her child past the ruins of her home town of Kobane in March 2015. AFP PHOTO/YASIN AKGUL

The most common reason for IDPs having to flee their home currently is attack by non-state armed (or terrorist) groups such as ISIS or the Lord’s Resistance Army (a Christian extremist group in Uganda seeking to rule Uganda according to Old Testament law).

Where they can, IDPs stay with family in other locations within their home country. Others stay in camps – some run by their governments and some by the UN. But often they are forced to flee from location to location as local conflicts escalate.

A relatively small number of people who flee their homes subsequently seek asylum elsewhere. In 2014, according to the UNHCR, 1.7 million people left their home country to seek asylum elsewhere – although this number is likely to be much larger in 2015 due to increased warfare in Syria alone.

By way of example, at the end of 2014 there were 7.6 million IDPs in Syria. Unfortunately fewer than 3% of them were in official camps. The rest were staying with family, host families or renting accommodation for as long as they could afford to do so. But as the conflict escalates, more and more of them have no choice but to cross the borders of Syria and seek asylum or refuge in another country – which is why we’re seeing the scenes of Syrian refugees in Europe right now, desperately trying to find a country to take them in.

(You can read more about the plight of Internally Displaced Persons around the globe here.)
4. What option would you choose and why?

So what would you do if you were in the hypothetical person’s shoes above? Would you stay on the Australian mainland, and take your chances avoiding radiation poisoning and further attacks? Would you head up to Christmas Island – the last remaining non-nuked part of Australia, and hope that all 4 million surviving Aussies can fit there. Or would you and your family try to sneak onto the plane to America and seek refuge there?

Lodge your vote below:

[polldaddy poll=9085462]

And don’t forget to add any comments or thoughts you have about why you chose a particular option below.

A quick note on my choice of hypothetical story…In case you’ve had better things to do than think about hypothetical situations before, the purpose is to try to imagine what you would do in a completely different set of circumstances to those that you are normally faced with. In this instance, I have deliberately picked a highly unlikely and somewhat ridiculous situation, because I want the focus to be on the options, rather than the story itself. So try to see past the fact that it is pretty much impossible that Kiribati would nuke Australia, and consider what it would be like if something did happen to your home and your city more broadly which meant you had no choice but to leave and seek refuge elsewhere.


This article was first published on ProgressiveConversation.


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  1. John Kelly

    I used to ask others a similar question when they told me how outrageous it was that people should try to come here uninvited. They never answered honestly. They just stuck to the familiar line, “they should join the queue.”

  2. Kaye Lee

    I can’t choose. If it was me I would stay at the resort but if I had little kids I would try to get to America. I remember saying to my mother once when she was complaining about “boat people” that if we lived in Afghanistan and she didn’t try to get me out I would be devastated.

  3. Kate M

    John – I agree. I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the plight of refugees – fostered by the government – which paints them as economic migrants rather than as people who literally have nowhere else to go. That is the definition of a refugee. And I think sometimes, because Australia is a relatively safe country, it’s really difficult for us to imagine what it would be like to be in their position. We assume we will always have somewhere to live, always be a wealthy country. And while it’s a long shot that it could be taken away – it’s not outside the realm of possibility. The world is becoming a smaller and smaller place all the time.

    Last week I was reading stories of individual Syrian refugees, and was struck by how many of them remember Syria as a wonderful place to live and miss it terribly. There was one drawing by a child of their home in Syria, which was represented by a star – as that was how they remembered it. I think that’s how many Australians would feel if they had to leave Australia – incredibly saddened at what they had lost.

  4. Kate M

    Kaye – I have to say I’m astonished – looking at the current Poll results – at just how many people have said that they would try to go to the US. In per capita terms they are even worse than us when it comes to taking in asylum seekers/refugees. They only took in 70,000 last year – which given they have around 320 million people, makes us look positively generous (and we aren’t). There’s no way, in this hypothetical situation that the US would take more than a small percentage of the 4 million people.

    I’m also astonished at how many people say they would stay and risk radiation poisoning – I’m interested at why you would choose that option?

  5. Kaye Lee

    Mainly because I hate change (and you didn’t give me any good options). My age is also a factor. I am 57 and have lived a good life (or at least I choose to remember the good bits). For me I would take the risk of staying but I could never put my children at risk.

  6. Neil of Sydney

    They only took in 70,000 last year

    Does this include part of the 70,000?

    Over the past few years, and in particular over the past few months, the number of children and families leaving the Central American countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras and arriving in neighboring countries and at our southern border has grown significantly. Already in fiscal year 2014, more than 57,000 children have arrived in the United States, double the number who made it to the U.S. southern border in FY 2013

  7. Kate M

    Kaye – I see. And why wouldn’t you choose to go to Christmas Island out of interest?

  8. Kaye Lee

    Too small. I’ve seen people go a bit troppo on islands and the idea is vaguely claustrophobic for me. Lord of the Flies scenario – I need an escape route.

  9. corvus boreus

    I would probably choose to stay and risk dying of radiation poisoning.
    I have territorial tendencies, and lacking any brood to protect, see little point in fleeing from doom to doom for the purposes of saving my own skin.

  10. Kate M

    Kaye and CB – I see. Interesting 🙂

  11. RosemaryJ36

    If I were to stay, even if radiation did not get me,there is a strong probability that access to food, utilities and essentials of life would not last long.
    To head for Christmas Island would be to add to an impossible situation.
    Since the USA has refused to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, I reckon they might have a guilty conscience about our plight and let us in!

  12. Kate M

    Rosemary – interesting and reasonable argument about nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

    I read a similar one re Syria in a comment on another article on Friday though – suggesting that the US was to blame for the current crisis and therefore they should take more. That’s certainly a reasonable argument too – and yet the US has agreed to take only an extra 10,000 Syrian refugees out of over 10 million refugees and IDPS – so clearly they aren’t swayed by the argument that they are responsible for causing the ‘dehoming’ of so many!!

  13. Wun Farlung

    Neil of Sydney
    What would you do if you have a wife and children to care for?
    My choice taking my wife into consideration is all the way USA
    If I was a single bloke I’d just stay at the resort and drink all their grog
    I’d like to read your thoughts

  14. Kaye Lee

    Another reason for going to the US….as I said, I wouldn’t do it for myself but for the sake of my children I would be prepared to start again and rebuild. I could not do that on Christmas Island but I would have some chance in the US – all of which leads me to what I think you were intending….it helps me understand why people flee with their kids and make wealthy countries their destination.

  15. Neil of Sydney

    What would you do if you have a wife and children to care for?

    Well the USA is getting a lot of people from Central America. I have seen some figures of 20,000/month. I guess they are fleeing an unpleasant lifestyle but are perhaps not refugees in the traditional sense. I guess if i lived in a Mexican slum i would illegally cross the border and clean toilets in California.

    Fact is there is large scale people movement around the world from poorer countries to wealthy countries.

    But what really annoys me are the Eastern Europeans especially Russians. Russia has more land area and natural resources than any nation on earth. If they cannot look after themselves then tough. Educated Russians all want jobs in English speaking countries because the pay is better and they are nicer countries to live in.

  16. diannaart

    I don’t have any one dependent upon me so would take chance and stay at resort.

    Having lived in USA, I really don’t like my chances of eking out a living there – not qualified for anything professional in USA and minimum wage not an option (not liveable) – would US even take older people who, in Australia, are on DSP?

    Like most people I love the country that has been, primarily, my home for most of my life.

    I remember when living in the USA – my then partner’s father thought I was only trying to gain entry to USA! Sound familiar?

  17. Kate M

    Kaye – yes that was one thing. But also the very limited and tragic choices available to people in this situation as well as how leveling an experience it is. If your country is turned upside down – and your currency is worthless – you may have been very well off before, and suddenly you have nothing. So people who think that just because they are well off now means they would be fine if something happens are kidding themselves. Except for the very wealthy, who can afford to distribute their wealth around the globe – for most of us, our wealth and lives are tied to having a country to call our own. Take that away, and we are left with nothing. We too could be those Syrian refugees desperately finding somewhere to let them live.


  18. Kate M

    Interesting Dianna – like Kaye, if you didn’t have children, you’d want to stay. if you did – you didn’t you’d look elsewhere.

  19. eli nes

    the choice is easy I, my son and grandson would take the cash and go to nz where i would seek the Thor Heyerdahl transport group to reach canada and eventually crossing to america through the Akwesasne crossing.
    The aim is then to petition president trump to allow 6 white anglo saxon protestant women to join us.
    Of course we will promise that they will learn english, not seek help for radiation burns and continue their ironing as instructed by the rabbutt before the bomb

  20. totaram

    “I think there is a fundamental misunderstanding about the plight of refugees – fostered by the government – ”

    and aided and abetted by the Main Stream Mierda, especially the Murdochians, who should never be forgiven for their role.

  21. Wun Farlung

    Neil of Sydney
    I was thinking in regard to the hypothetical story
    Considering you are a victim of war/oppression and not an economic refugee.
    I believe the US problem of is the product of imperialist/capitalist theft of natural resources and sponsorship of political coupe

  22. Kate M

    Eli – certainly an innovative plan. And it is a hypothetical situation – so who am I to poke holes in it!! Good luck with it. (Glad you are remembering your ironing skills from our un-dearly un-beloved ex-PrimeMinister.

  23. Kyran

    Two things I learnt from RN this weekend relating to refugee’s emanated from rebroadcasts of BBC productions.

    One made mention of the ‘estimate’ that 70% of the refugee’s in Europe are male and are, therefore, presumed to be economic refugee’s. This got my interest due to an article on this site which had many comments using the same rationale. lf memory serves me, it was one of the articles on Aylan Kurdi. The intent of the article was being skewed by comments suggesting the father was being irresponsible and should not have endangered his family. He should have made the trek and sent for his family later. The point of the BBC broadcast was that none of the ‘authorities’ in Europe are keeping any meaningful data. The implication being ‘if we don’t collect facts, what we say can’t be disputed’. Good to see Europe still learns from Ostrilya.

    The second one was BBC World Service – Boston Calling (titled Starting Over), and is well worth a listen.
    The upshot of the story is an attempt by human rights lawyers in America to link two taboo subjects. Women’s Rights. Human Rights. And asking a sensible question. Why should they be treated differently? In the context of DV in Australia, it would be well worthy of another ‘hypothetical’. All I expect from politicians is ‘hypocritical’.

    PS, eli nes. The back door in Europe at the moment appears to be Croatia, which is being slammed shut as I type. As for trumped, he wants to build a wall across the Mexican border (Berlin, anyone?). He will probably do the same at the Canadian border.
    PPS, if I take Option 1, with a John Marsden caveat (Tomorrow, When the War began), am I immediately guilty of being a terrorist?
    Grateful, Kate M. Take care

  24. Kaye Lee

    “He will probably do the same at the Canadian border.”

    No way. That would close the door to cheap medicine as all American’s who live in northern states will tell you – much cheaper to cross the border for your drugs which, come to think of it, is the same on their southern border though you won’t need a prescription down there.

    Last time I was in Canada I saw a t-shirt which said “Definition of a Canadian: an unarmed American with healthcare”.

  25. Venetta Lee

    If it was just me I would stay in Nth Qld but with my family with me I would head to the USA. My logic is that if they didn’t accept us they would deport us back to Christmas Island anyway.

  26. Kyran

    Now that is funny, Ms Lee. ‘Down there’, all you need for drugs is your Second Amendment rights. A firearm beats paperwork any day.
    It would be interesting to peruse a Mexican t-shirt emporium. Take care

  27. Kate M

    Kyran – you make some interesting points – particularly around the lack of facts. When I was reading the UNHCR Global Trends report recently (for 2014 and released in 2015), one of the facts that stood out to me was that the majority of displaced people are women and children. But this doesn’t correlate with the information you get through the MSM. Even the images you see – and I’ve been looking since I saw the statistics around this – are primarily of men. I don’t know whether women and chilldren deliberately avoid the cameras – certainly a possibility – or whether this is contrived. Or perhaps there is some other reason for the variation (such as governments contriving to dehumanise refugees and make them appear dangerous as we know has happened here – but it’s interesting that you raise it

    The other interesting piece of misinformation that abounds – which you reference from the discussion on RN – is that they were referring to Syrians as ‘economic’ refugees or migrants. And I’ve seen a lot of that in ABC reporting on TV as well. But there is technically no such thing as an economic refugee. There is a very strict definition of who can or who can’t be classified as a refugee, which is set out in the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. It confirms that the ONLY people who can be classed as refugees are those who have a “well founded fear of being persecuted” for one of five reasons (race, religion, nationality etc). And refugees go through stringent checks to verify that their claim for persecution is valid. If you don’t meet those criteria, you’re not a refugee – pure and simple.

    There simply is no such thing as an economic refugee. There are migrants – who are people looking for a country with a better future. And there are refugees – who are fleeing persecution. But time and time again, the media uses the term economic refugee and/or migrant, to describe Syrians fleeing war and death. And so do politicians. Abbott loved to do it. I once heard him tell school children that refugees were people coming from poorer countries to try and get our lifestyle (or words like that anyway).

    This too generates a lot of bad feeling from potential host countries I think – as they believe that refugees are coming to ‘steal’ their jobs etc.

    Thanks for the link – will have a listen later.



  28. jimmy

    Dealing in hypotheticals.
    That’s what Australian governments have done for the last 40 years.
    Get off the grass people and look at what is happening in reality.
    Chinas military build up is going unreported and largely unnoticed.
    Our government too shit scared to say anything for fear of our trade.
    No one on here mentions anything about it either.
    When they decide to assert their authority it wont be hypothetical, but as long as we have gay marriage and a republic all will be roses.

  29. Kyran

    As I understand it, and I’m no roads scholar, displaced is the term ‘we’ use for people who have moved from their home, ie they stay within the borders of their country. The refugee’s are those that cross a border seeking asylum. ‘We’ created all of these legal criteria, definitions and processes, which require ‘our’ due legal process. If ‘we’ don’t keep details, no harm, no foul. Our legalise will beat your crises every time.
    Refugee; “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster”.
    You may want to take a look at this one.
    Appropriate in so many ways. Being from Kiribati, et al.
    The economic refugee’s, in my opinion, are the one’s who fly in on a visa, and overstay. That’s ok, they have money and they fly in from a country with a visa system. That means they are white and/or wealthy. I get cranky when a lawyer/politician wants to put a legal definition on someone wanting to escape a bomb being dropped on them, or their kid’s. Ffs
    For what it is worth, I will try and find the link for the #1 recollection. Take care

  30. Kaye Lee

    I can see no reason whatsoever for us to be concerned about China’s military posturing when they have no need for aggression towards us…they can buy us for a shitload cheaper than a war would cost.

  31. mars08

    So let get this right…. the nukes totally wiped out all of our federal politicians? If so, … i would find a nice beach, lay down… and die a happy man…

  32. Felicitas

    Ah Mars…. what a delightful thought. May I join you?

  33. Jimmy

    Kaye Lee, Kaye Lee, I think that you are intelligent enough to realize that the aggression would not begin against Australia.
    It would be against our Asian neighbours.
    We would undoubtedly be drawn into it. Via location or our American allies.
    Why do you think Japan is ramping up their military over the South China Sea activities.
    Why do you think the US wants to put air bases and navy ports on Japanese owned islands in the area.
    They cant buy us either Kaye Lee. Due to successive Governments , We don’t own us.

  34. Xy

    Well I’m glad I chose to go to Christmas Island as if the poll is anything to go by I will only be sharing with less than 10% of the population! Once there I plan to consider my options and consider leaving Australia if Christmas Island is untenable. Or hatch a plan to exact revenge!

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