Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Should they Stay or Should they Go Now?

Sri Lankan Refugee Camp . .

Since when did a leaky boat full of Sri Lankans, found by Australian Customs in Indonesian waters get to choose their refugee destination?

I must be getting grumpy in my old age but lately we've been visited by four or five little boats intercepted in Indonesian or Australian waters, jam packed with Sri Lankans claiming to be Tamil refugees afraid of returning to their homeland in fear of their lives.

The 78 asylum seekers were rescued open international waters and are subject to an agreement between Australia and Indonesia which means they will be 'processed' in a detention camp in Indonesia
by the United National High Commission for Refugees. However, the Indonesians won't 'force' them off the Australian Customs ship - Oceanic Viking. All have refused identity checks and medical assistance and do not want to disembark. Their intended destination was Australia. So after 10 days aboard the ship being fed, watered, translated and represented, we have reached gridlock.

The asylum seekers, 10 of whom are women and children, are due to be taken to an Australian-funded detention centre on the Island of Bintan, where some detainees have alleged they have been beaten by guards. Well this is Indonesia and I have no love of their corrupt system.

The bottom line is that illegal refugees have no choice as to where they can claim asylum. We picked them up, we rescued them and now they're getting picky about their accommodation!

Then the compassionate person screaming in my head says that this smacks of shirking responsibility by Australia. Being institutionalised and processed in Australia would be more humane, quicker and in the interim, although the refugees are incarcerated, they are receiving medical attention, English lessons, free legal representation and a comfortable, dry place to live.

The consensus seems to be that if indeed these people are 'genuine' we would accept them into Australia on compassionate grounds. The facilities at Christmas Island are being expanded and they should be lobbed there for processing.

Get them in, process them, if they're refugees give them protection, if they're not send them back.

These are desperate people who have resorted to desperate measures to escape desperate times:

These stories courtesy of Ruth Fremson/ The New York Times:

A 25-year-old former computer student, S. Indra Meenan, described long periods of shelling: “In the village, every house had a bunker. Five or six people sitting inside, sometimes for three or four hours.” He said that the Tamil Tigers sometimes fired from areas close to where the civilians were residing, putting them at risk from retaliatory fire. “We left [by boat] on April 20 because we were scared. There was so much bombing and shelling. Every day, at least three or four hours, there was shelling. The firing was coming from the Sri Lankan army.”
A motorbike taxi driver, S. Indra Kumar, told Human Rights Watch that his family went to Putumattalan on the coast after the Sri Lankan government declared the area a safe zone: “We were living in such fear. There was constant shelling. On April 5 or 6, our neighbors were injured in the shelling. A shell landed inside the bunker. Ten people were injured, and of them, five died. There was no anesthesia. The doctors had to cut off a girl’s hand without any anesthesia. My six-year-old daughter was crying and scared. I decided then that we had to leave.”
Jagdeshwaran told Human Rights Watch about the journey by boat that included his wife and two children and his wife’s relatives: “My son died on April 24, four days after getting on the boat. He was four-years-old. We had no water, no food on the boat. Then her father died. Her two brothers jumped into the sea. My wife was in shock. She was weak and not even able to move. That morning, April 29, she asked for some water. We gave her seawater. She vomited and then she passed away.” His eight-month-old baby boy Kubera survived because he was on breast milk.

These are just three of their stories . . now you tell me, do they deserve a place here?

Christmas Island Detention Centre under construction - now finished it's still a detention camp but much more comfortable than the camps from whence these people came!


sandy said...

educational to me - did not realize - hard to see but yet I admire their grit like the Cubans and Haitians here..sandy

Alan Burnett said...

How I hate it when people ask me questions I don't know the answer to. As I get older I get more uncertain of what the "right" response to such questions are and mutter to myself about things like "balance" and "genuine refugees". Migration has always played such an important part in the development of society - and the vast majority of migrants have always been what today we call "economic migrants". I am prattling on so much because it allows me to avoid answering the question you pose.

Tom said...

there is no good answer...these corrupt countries don't care about their own citizens and like you say, what choice do the people have but to flee? What a frightening position to be in, we should all count our blessings.

hokgardner said...

We have a wet foot/dry foot policy ith Cuban and Haitians here, which means if they set foot on land, they get to stay. But if the Coast Guard catches them even 10 feet off shore, they get processed and shipped back. The policy has caused several unusual cases - like whether the refugee plucked from a bridge piling actually made it to land.

There are no easy answers.

Roy said...

I agree with the consensus. When in doubt, always do the humane thing.

Brian Miller said...

roy hit it spot on...these stories tear at my be in that position where you must flee everything you have ever known, and then to fear who would have you....

kj said...

ah baino, brian said it so spot on:
"to be in that position where you must flee everything you have ever known, and then to fear who would have you"

when did our resources get so slim that we can not longer ofter shelter and protection from those who genuinely come from inhuman places? the USA struggles with this hugely too. when there's not enough to go around, the wagons get pulled in. But is that the reality? is scarcity really the problem?

this i do know: it's easier to take positions when the problem is once or twice removed from facing you in the eye. i work with a four year old child who has no one. she could be in foster care limbo for years. and i look at her and i think, "i could make such a difference, if i chose to adopt her"

here's the thing: once we really "see", it's easier to know what is right to do. but it's also so much more painful....

love you, baino. glad you're back.

Renee said...

Yes, I think that they have to be able to plead there case as they have come this far.

It will need to be determined (all guessing) whether they are refugees or not.

I say the humane thing needs to be done always.

Love Renee xoxo

nick said...

Judging by the dreadful stories they tell, they should certainly get refuge in Oz. What else are they supposed to do when their lives are in danger but leave their homes and seek shelter somewhere else? They deserve compassion and help.

laughingwolf said...

wb baino...

compassion, of course, but caught lying, send em back....

Ces said...

Oh I want to say a lot but instead I just want to say this: Welcome!

Christopher said...

I concur with Roy and others, although I wonder about their story. It's been a while since I studied the Sri Lankan situation, but the fact that their civil war ended gave me hope that Sinhala and Tamil people had finally buried the hatchet and agreed to live alongside each other. There were Tamils forced to flee after Sri Lanka achieved independence, but now that more than thirty years of bloody civil war has ended, does the Sri Lankan government still consider them a threat?

My inclination is to offer them refuge, but I also think the Sri Lankan government has some explaining to do.

Megan said...

I don't know. I don't know.

But do you suppose we could find out who is supplying the Tamil with all these shells and CUT OFF THEIR SUPPLY????


Baino said...

The problem is that there's a legal way to get into the country. These guys have spent much more money being smuggled in leaky boats than it would cost to attempt to get a visa and fly over. We have over 45,000 illegals a year who just overstay their visas and never return. Even more who gain refugee status through the 'right channels' so the queue jumping effect comes into play. I still think a detention centre on Australian soil would be better than in Indonesia . .then they get here and get fussy! The good news is that the Federal Police are working with the Indonesians to try to seek out and prosecute the people smugglers. That's a start I suppose.

Melanie said...

i typed so many things here....deleted so much. grrrrr I am in a position where if I remark on some subjects it could impact on my personal life.....but just so you know...there is a heck of a lot of shouting going on in my head right now on the subject lol ...

otin said...

Is this your way of saying, "I missed everyone, thank God that I am back?" LOL! Only you!

Life is about perspective. It is hard to comment on a situation that I can never experience both sides of.

Ronda Laveen said...

It's back with a vengence you are! I don't have an answer but, I'm glad I don't have to make that decision. And I'm also grateful I'm not on that leaky boat.

Mim said...

In an abstract sense, this is such a tough question. But having relatives that escaped Afghanistan by disguising themselves and walking to India made me think differently about refugees. My dad was a die hard republican, but he didn't hesitate to help when he was called in the middle of the night because two other Afghan relatives jumped "ship" in NYC, ripped up their passports and visa's to Venezuela and got put onto Rikers island - he rescued them quick. Abstract thought didn't help when faced with family.

There ain't an easy answer to this question.
Are their

Quickroute said...

I understand the resistance to letting them into Oz but believe they should be let in on humane grounds. The problem becomes where do you draw the line. That's a tougher nut to crack.

River said...

I don't know. I just don't know.....

ian said...


Wouldn't the aboriginals say the whole lot of you should go?

I don't know the Sri Lankan situation, but when Africans arrive in Ireland there must be serious questions about how people in such horrendously poor countries came by thousands of dollars for the journey in the first place

Rowe said...

I guess what we all fear, and rightfully so, is our own lifestyles threatened by overcrowding which burdens our health, housing and employment opportunities. In an earlier post, you touched on population control, and on a global scale, maybe that is a good idea. For example only for what I'm trying to convey here, when I see images of India with thousands crowding the streets and many appearing to live in squalor, I think, will that happen here in my beautiful country. Our resources are already being stretched to the limit. Our services are sorely lacking, we already have enough problems we need to sort out. A large proportion of Australia is desert, to what degree can she sustain a rapidly multiplying population? I think about all these things, but I also think that human life is sacred and we must find a solution, globally. We are increasingly becoming a global community, whether we like that fact or not.

Baino said...

Haha sorry Otin . .you know I missed you as much as you missed me! Can't all be fun and games you know!

Apart from my abovementioned internet crush. I'm not going to answer individually on this. The ship is still in stalemate. There are many who would object vehemently because these are people who have come from dire straits with enough money to find a new life. . .on the other hand. . .their journeys are desperate . .on the other hand . . .they're fussy about where they settle. . .I know that if my life was threatened, I'd be grateful for pretty much anywhere that a gun wasn't pointed at my head. I don't know what the answer is. A friend of mine's parents fled Hungary during the Russian occupation in much the same way. My brother's father in law did the same leaving Latvia . . .both are/were admitted and given Australian citizenship and became valuable members of society. . .what to do? I fear that by fobbing them off to an Australian funded Indonesian detention centre, we're doing them harm. I would rather see them incarcerated here until processing is complete. It is indeed a difficult situation.

Ian, no . . the Aboriginals don't want their previous life back they just want (and justifiably so) to be treated equally and for the sins of the past to be rectified. But I understand the issue of the rich being able to pay for the journey, no matter how horrendous . . there are millions left who have no option but to suffer the consequences of the civil war. I am angry that people in 'fear' of their lives have spent up to $15,000 a head to people smugglers, now dictating where they live as possible refugees when there are legitimate applications being processed through Australia's refugee status system.

Rowe, we have more illegals who outstay their visitors visas and 'disappear' in Australia than boat people. It's a conundrum.

Bimbimbie said...

Our Mr Fixit has stuffed up big time with his open door policy hasn't he. Not fair to those people going through the legal process whilst waiting in camps - why didn't he change the policy on speeding up their applications, perhaps then not so many people would try risking their lives by queue jumping*!*

Gledwood said...


It reminds me of the production offices for I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here, which also comes from north Australia!

JeffScape said...

Maybe this will plant the seed for Australia's own version of Scarface, eh? I hear Oliver Stone is looking for work!

Ribbon said...

Life is not black and white

Therefore I don't think that there is any one answer to this question... but I do believe that we need to view everything through the eyes of love and then we are sure to be on a road to success.

It's not simple being human... I'm not sure that we choose where we want to be born.

xx Ribbon

Babysis said...

Mmmm Interesting.
I am currently helping my son with a project on this very topic. So have had to become a little more aware. Also on ABC's Q&A last night this of course was a big topic.

After researching the project, both Joel and I decided that refugees must come through the proper channels. The government allows for this.

As for the Sri Lankans - The Ozzies responded to a distress call in the ocean. They answered it - they were in Indonesian waters, therefore, the Sri Lankan's need to go to indonesia.

Yes we have a lot of illegal immigrants who have outstayed there Visas, but they are not necessarily Refugees, so that is a separate matter altogether.

I agree with Baino, that if I was in dire straits - Indonesia would do just fine.

Susan at Stony River said...

Oh boy. And I complain because nobody helps me with housework.

It's an awful situation... but yes, if I'd been through shelling and watching my family die one by one in the boat, ANY damn place would be fine. Being picky just seems strange, but then, well, I don't know the whole situation either.

Just sad.

...mmm... said...

I quite agree. this whole plight covers such a travesty and tragedy.

lettuce said...

its hard to imagine being that desperate

(see, also avoiding answering?)(but always in favour of compassion)

(and also sniggering at word verf. which is 'imburgly')

Nano said...

The number of asylum seekers is miniscule compared to the number of peopele overstaying their visas and living here illegaly. The difference is that those overstaying were eligible for visas so could get a cheap flight here, whereas the Sri Lankans and those from other warzones do not have the option of getting a tourist visa and entering illegaly on the cheap, they must sell their homes, their businesses, every possesion in a desperate attempt to flee. Nobody will grant these people visas, nobody in the region will take them. They are left with no option but to risk their lives on a chaotic journey with little hope.

There are no easy answers, but they do seek to be granted asylum thanks to the situiation in their homes, not ours. The callous disregard for human lives fleeing the horror, mutilation and death of war, this intolerance by both sides of Australian parliament is abhorrent and I am ashamed we lock them up on a prison island for the crime of seeking refuge. Isn't that how our nation started, as an island prison colony? We broke free of that, and now are recreating a scale model?

The only answer that makes sense is that it is a deliberate political tactic to instill fear and create a scapegoat for their own schemes.

Oh BTW, as a first time poster, hi! Nice blog, keep up the good work.

Baino said...

Bimbimbie sadly the processing is slow due to the dinosaur of public service and the fact that many illegals deliberately don't bring adequate identification.

Gleds . .if they knew how many things want to kill us, they might think twice.

Jeff . . we've already done the white Australia thing. Plus we've tried to knock off a shitload of backpackers, you'd think the news would get out.

Exactly Ribbon which is why I'm torn. I wonder if these people have access to legitimate means of immigration frankly.

Lou I'm not convinced that 'the proper channels' are available or less expensive. I have great suspicions about bribery and corruption in these countries. Apparently many of those on the ship have lived in Indo for a while and aren't prepared. I don't like the Australian government coming up with a Guantanamo solution. Palming off prospective refugees to another country so that if something goes wrong, it's not our fault.

Suze . .the dichotomy is do we give preference to those who go through the right channels but are persecuted in their own country therefore may not have access, or do we show compassion to illegals who have paid their life savings to be here legitimately. We do send people back if they prove unworthy. I wonder if they were Hungarians or Germans or Estonians would we be so xenophobic.

Lettuce there's not a day goes by that I don't think how lucky I was/am to be in a western, affluent, democratic society. Truthfully, I am grateful for that.

Nano welcome, I hear 45,000 in the last five years . .just come over on visitors visas and disappear into the ether. I don't disagree with detention centres per se. . .I do think they should be processed quickly. Surely being in a clean detention centre with food, health care and education is better than the squalid conditions of makeshift refugee camps. I agree completely with the xenophobic politics of detention. Again, if they were white, blue eyed . . you know where Im going with this.