THE top 10 myths about asylum seekers were addressed with a hot potato and fact sheets yesterday when The Hot Potato van rolled into Tamworth.
A group of 16 ambassadors, producers and cameramen visited Tamworth as part of a 10-day documented tour of regional areas of NSW and Victoria, serving hot potato with different toppings from a food van.
Documentary producer Alistair Protten said the hot potatoes, served in wooden boats, were perfect to bring the asylum seeker issue to everyone’s attention.
“The asylum seeker issue is one that no one, particularly the major parties, wants to deal with, so it’s like having a hot potato passed around from person to person,” Mr Protten said.
Australian model Imogen Bailey, who took part in the SBS documentary Go Back To Where You Came From, was with the group as an ambassador.
She spoke with local people about their views on asylum seekers and explained her experiences travelling to refugee camps in Somalia and Afghanistan and visiting the Christmas Island detention centre.
Ms Bailey said the Hot Potato tour had put Australians’ fears about asylum seekers in the spotlight, with the top myth being that asylum seekers were illegal.
Other myths include asylum seekers being country shoppers, terrorists and queue jumpers, and that they live off Centrelink benefits.
Ms Bailey said deterrent-based policies from both major parties had added to the fear.
“So many people believe that asylum seekers are illegal, and they’ve all been surprised when we’ve given them the facts,” Ms Bailey said.
“Every message from both major parties is all about punishment, not helping asylum seekers.
“They’ve run an incredibly good smear campaign against asylum seekers, who are people needing help.”
Education is a major problem, with many Australians knowing very little about the Refugee Convention and the process of seeking asylum.
“I had 21 days to see first-hand what they go through and get all the facts, and this is a fast-tracked education to reach as many people as we can. Australians have been given the wrong information,” Ms Bailey said.
School children are some of the most aware Aussies and want to learn more, according to Ms Bailey. “Some of the children know more about asylum seekers than adults,” she said.
“But we’re still meeting Australian children who are scared because they think that all asylum seekers are terrorists.”
The Hot Potato van left Tamworth yesterday afternoon and will be in Newcastle today.