Australia; friend or foe to the helpless?

9 11 2009

The issue of asylum seekers and more importantly the way they are dealt with is one of constant controversy and judgement. The issue re-emerged recently when a vessel holding about 10 women and children and a group of male asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, was found in international waters some weeks ago.

The ship was spotted by Australian foreign relations officials first, and ‘rescued’. This rescuing however entailed Australia transporting the ship to Indonesian ports as the boat was originally in the Indonesian pick up zone or region of the waters. The Indonesians refuse to disembark from the boat in any of the ports attempted in Indonesia, as they were originally headed to Australia knowing that they would be processed and have a more probable chance at freedom. Indonesian foreign officials have claimed they do not have the power to force the refugees to disembark the ship as it is ‘An Australian flagged vessel’.

There is no doubt that once off the boat and on the shores in Indonesia there would be nothing to stop Indonesian Government from placing the asylum seekers in a detention centre without much of a hope of ever joining society or attaining a ‘peaceful’ home, which is the reason they were on this venture in the first place.  The intercepting of this vessel, The Oceanic Viking, invites questioning of Mr Rudd’s capabilities in dealing with refugees and the admission of them into Australia. With their allowance or security clearance to be in Indonesian ports running out in 1 day, after already being extended, it has been said that it is very likely the ship be redirected to Australia.

 It is the opinion of some that previous Prime Minister John Howard handled the asylum seekers much more effectively, with less illegal immigrants, and on shore asylum seekers being permitted into the country. In the time of John Howard’s governing there were many less asylum seekers arriving on our shores. When he was dealing with the issue of refugees, genuine or in genuine, the issue was far less dense and he was far less concerned with justice and humane obligation in his decision making. With asylum seeking much more evident now, Mr. Rudd has much more on his plate and a lot more people watching.

It brings up an interesting issue of which sort of approach is best in these difficult situations. An inhumane, but safe and secure method will keep the Asylum seekers out of country and off our streets, but hopefully not out of our government’s conscience. Asylum seekers, or a boat full of asylum seekers, are still people, people who need protection and life just as much as the rest of us. I’m not dismissing the processing required. Obviously in light of the world we live in; we can see that we need to assess everyone who enters our country for the safety of the country and its people. But to what extent? How much is too much? What we need to remember is it is often not the fault of the Asylum seekers in question that they are in the position they are in.

 One day, a million years in the future, Australia could be just like the dangerous, unliveable countries these people flee from, and we could be the ones seeking peaceful welcoming countries. So before we shut the door, or in this case push the ship the other way, we should put on the shoes of these struggling individuals and think. Think before we act, think before we speak, think before we judge and think before we condemn how somebody has decided to handle this delicate issue.

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