[ 07. Jan 2011 ]

Christmas Island Myths

Christmas Island asylum seeker boat wreck, 15. December 2010

Another boat of asylum seekers arriving in Australia to seek protection have ended their lives in a tragic accident... Media Release by RISE - Refugees, Survivors and Ex- Detainees.


Another boat of asylum seekers arriving in Australia to seek protection have ended their lives in a tragic accident. Is this a wake up call for politicians, refugee advocates and policy makers regarding our failing refugee policy or is this going to be used again as a promotional package for "tough" policies mandated by the major political parties and exploited by the media as "breaking news"?

When I heard the news that day, I thought to myself: alright there will be numerous calls from the media for comments on what has happened and there will be the regurgitation of political debate combined with blame game at this point. But the simple truth will be hidden in the millions of sound bites and political spin: Australia is causing people to die and suffer as politicians continue to push their "border security" policies and their "anti-people smuggling" laws. The death of these asylum seekers trying to make it to Australia over the last decade seems only to result in a recurring theme of debate and rhetoric with no progressive and humane solution being provided.

Before this incident early this year, three Afghani people died and over 30 people were injured in an explosion on board a fishing boat, carrying 49 Afghani passengers to Australia off Ashmore Reef. Two weeks ago at 3.30am early morning I received a call again that there was another death in Villawood detention center in Sydney, bringing the total number of deaths in this detention centre to three.

In the current tragedy that occurred on Australian shores before our eyes, we know there are over 29 confirmed dead and 42 have survived. Many who survived were not "rescued" as some people think. They survived by managing to swim to the nearest rock and clawing themselves up to safety, and screaming for help. The memories of the 353 deaths after the 2001 SIEV X tragedy and John Howard' s deliberate misleading of the Australian people during the Tampa crisis come back to me. It raises the alarming question as to whether what happened last week was an accident at all. After all do we not have strict "border control", and surveillance methods that allows us to intercept and even request other countries to turn back boats, like the one that was sent back last year to the Indonesian port of Merak and resulted in the death of Jacob George Christin the night before Christmas Eve? While these questions keep arising, most of the ex-detainee and refugee communities are devastated by the incident and concerned for their loved once who are stuck indefinitely in Indonesia and other regional processing centres not sure when they can start a life.

These asylum seekers who have endured many hardships, to cross many borders and reach the open seas with not even $2 left in their pockets have been punished and politicised as queue jumpers, with the general public asking why they don' t come the "right" way. If you are an Afghani, Palestinian, Iraqi, Iranian or Sri Lankan what it is the right way or where is the queue and who is holding the queue? What is the right approach that Australia should take towards countries overrun by the pressure and chaos created by war and seedy politics?

The unreasonableness of these arguments and policies demonstrates the lack of knowledge mainstream Australia has, of the world refugee displacement population.

There are over 33 million refugees around the world and Australia's intake is 0.1% of the world refugee population per year. In 2009 UNHCR reports one out of four refugees in the world was from Afghanistan. Australia ranked 47th, in the world as a world refugee host country, between 2005 and 2009 (0.2 per cent of the global total).

Current figures show this:

  • The Middle East has the highest number of refugees. A staggering 4.2 million including Palestinians, Afghanis and Iraqis make up the majority of the uprooted population.
  • With 3.2 million refugees in Africa, the continent has the second highest number. Refugees from Sudan are the largest group, scattered throughout the camps in various countries.
  • Almost 2 million refugees in south and central Asia, with over 1 million Afghanis in Pakistan alone.

Within some of these camps, refugees face an insecure, unsafe environment with inadequate humanitarian assistance and a long waiting list for resettlement. Families in the refugee camps with children are not concerned by world economic growth, environmental pollution or economic inflation. Their first priority is protecting their kids. The first step to protect their families is to withdraw from the camps which themselves can be places in which they could be subjected to torture and persecution. Many of these interim camps are run by humanitarian agencies with high administrative expenses and very few seem to provide long lasting, permanent solutions for the people whose needs they are funded to address. Refugees faced with the prospect of torture and persecutions are more prepared to take the risks surrounding the escape to freedom.

It is time we recognised, that this is a global issue and not an Australian national security threat or invasion of this country. Offshore processing center may lower the numbers of people coming to Australia on a boat but you can' t put a full stop to people coming to this country on a boat. The offshore processing center will just add to the tally of interim camps for refugees and people will try to keep reaching to a more permanent and secure location whether there is a policy to stop this or not. We need to come up with a more humane and globally responsible solution for displaced refugees and not place an extra burden on less wealthy countries to serve our national interests. We need to recognise that oppression reduces the limits of risk and desperation.

We have gone through a year of tragedy and loss, and our community mourns for those who lost lives on the way to Australia. At the end of the day we lost people from our community; a daughter, a son, a farther and a mother and we carry these pains because they are part of us. We remember this country as a country with wealth and razor wire. We should not forget that the survivors of this incident have already experienced immeasurable trauma and hardships before embarking on the journey to reach these shores. Putting them behind razor wire, in Christmas Island and the mainland escalates the pressure and distress that leads to depression and selfharm and more deaths.

Source ::, 04. Jan 2011.