Dear friends, I have been, like many of you, following
the story of the Norwegian freighter with 460 asylum seekers on board stranded outside Christmas Island. I
am voicing my views and thoughts by writing to the major media and to you. I appreciate it greatly if you
spare some minutes to read the attachment. Your comments are most welcome.
The Australian media have, intentionally or unintentionally, avoided a fact that it was the Australian coastal safety authorities that requested the Norwegian freighter Tampa to rescue the sinking boat when Tampa was four hours away from the boat. When the captain of Tampa revealed this on one Australian TV channel, I did not hear the Australian government comment on this – neither denied nor acknowledged, as if this was totally irrelevant. It was by no means irrelevant. Asking a foreign vessel to rescue asylum seekers on a sinking boat, and then saying please take them to your country, is international hooliganism. The message to the world is: «Don’t respond to emergency rescue request unless you want trouble».
Howard has made a humanitarian issue a political and diplomatic one
The Prime Minister asked the public on TV, «—Do you seriously think once we allow these people land we have any chance to negotiate with another country?» By saying this he is putting his chance for diplomatic negotiation ahead of the threatened lives of the people on board Tampa, and putting his political survival ahead of humanitarian obligations of Australia.
Howard is a political master of combining and distorting different issues
The imperative task facing Australians as well as the world now is to let the vessel come ashore and let the people land. This does not mean all of them will be given refugee status and can stay in Australia for good. The first issue, emergency rescue, is humanitarian and not subject to negotiation. The second one, refugee status qualification and placement, is subject to debate and negotiation. Regardless how close these two appear to be, they are different. The Prime Minister has consciously or subconsciously mixed the two into one. He seems to be demanding other countries to promise to be resettlement destinations for the asylum seekers on Tampa as a condition for letting the boat land ashore. This is not the first time people in Australia have had to adore the excellence and maturity of his political performance. Last year in the monarchy versus republic referendum, the PM successfully worded the choices facing the voters to be between the current monarchy and a republic with its president elected by the parliament. In this way he jeopardized his opponents’ republic ambition by splitting the people favouring a republic with a president elected by the parliament and those favouring direct presidency election. I feel my brain was raped. Twice.
Australia sole and dearest mother of refugees?
It is very tempting for a frog living in a well to perceive the whole sky to be just the blue patch it can see from the bottom of the well. It is the imagination of some Australians and of some politicians in the government that Australia takes most, if not all, refugees in the world. Some people asked why Norway does not take some refugees. It does as a matter of fact! It has been very seldom reported, if at all, by Australian media just how many refugees other industrial countries take and how they treat asylum seekers and process their applications. Last year Australia took around 13,000 refugees while Germany took 112,000. In the first half of this year, Australia took around 5,000 refugees while the UK 40,000. Scandinavian countries and even our neighbour New Zealand each year take as many refugees per capita as Australia, if not more. Worth of mentioning, Australia is one of the few OECD countries, if not the only one, that lock up asylum seekers in fenced prison-style detention centres, the conditions of which are in many ways much worse than those of Australian prisons. The UN called developed countries to contribute 1% of their annual GNP as economic aid to developing countries. Australia has not met it. Norway has. So have Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands. Are people in these countries so stupid not to realise this is a drain of the taxpayers’ hard earned money?
Australia is a signatory of the International Refugee Convention. Australians love the patronage prestige of signing the convention to keep abreast with the rest of the industrial world. But when it comes to meeting the obligations involved, we are not as keen. If we think we couldn’t or shouldn’t meet those obligations, we should lobby our government to withdraw from the Convention. After all this is still a democratic country. But as long as we are in the Convention, we should be in line with the obligations.
big question mark put on the credibility of the Australian judicial and
Rushing through laws or amendment of laws seems to be favoured by some Australian politicians to resolve political crises. Not long ago, the «improper» sentencing of three youth gang rapists with mideast background disturbed people, most of whom coincidentally are of the same racial background of the victim (white), so much that Bob Carr, as the NSW Premier, had to «talk» to the judges and seek to amend laws to intervene, even though the judges announced that the sentencing in this case was similar to most of last year’s similar cases. Have those cases, in which white victims or victims of ethnic background were gang raped by white criminals, drawn similar attention from the media, the public and the politicians? Should the rushed-through laws apply to an incidence that happened earlier? I am so glad and relieved to see the opposition blocked the possible bill that would, if passed, enable John Howard to use force to remove the stranded Norwegian freighter. The possible passing of this bill would have been a laughingstock putting a big question mark on the credibility of the Australian judicial and legislation system, and a bad start to give the PM a far too handy ace to resort to in the future dispute domestically or internationally.
Facing our own increasing conscientiousness and international pressure, our government has a choice to make, but not between sticking to its hardline and backing down. Mr. PM can choose to back down gracefully now, or to back down disgracefully later. Not much later though, for we are not left with much time.