The cruel sea

The wreck of “The Dunbar” 19th century Sydney

Both tragedies.

Today’s WikiLeaks revelation makes for sad reading in this context. Politics– bah!


Been watching news on this through the day. It is still far too early to make any kind of pronouncement about it, let alone start politicking or seeking blame. It is just a terrible human tragedy; the sea is indeed still cruel and unpredictable.

16 thoughts on “The cruel sea

  1. Two days after, a huge number of illegal arrivals as well as some survivals of this very infamous illegal arrivals staged heated protests. I failed to see any grounds for such unjust and shameful protest.

    From the very basic, those illegal arrivals chose such condemned and clearly illegal and risky method on arriving. And they were calling UN to intervene? Ridiculous, one may say.

    Apart from such illegal aspect, the ones that survived the risky arriving method were protesting for those who knew the risk, chose the risk, but weren’t lucky enough? Seemingly, Australian Government is the blame? Australian tax-funded Navy is also the blame? Unbelievable!

    I recently visited Christmas Island, it is a beautiful place. Although I did not visit the famous detention centre, from a short distance, I noticed that every single unit/room is fitted with split unit air conditioners.

  2. I stand by what I wrote, and will not comment except to say that it is debatable whether refugees, whatever their mode of entry, are “illegal”. When in the 1970s the boats came from Vietnam we didn’t seem to brand them “illegal”.

    I am sure air conditioners are a not terribly significant, if necessary, feature of a place where people are locked up for some considerable time.

    I wouldn’t blame the Navy on the evidence so far available — but that is the problem: we have to wait to find out what really happened. I can however understand the anger of those whose relatives or countrymen have just drowned. Anger is a common part of grief in such circumstances.

    Let’s just recognise that the loss of so many people, including children, is really really tragic.

  3. Well, you hardly said anything.

    Since you elected not to comment on what I mentioned, I take that you do not disagree the protest was groundless.

    Air conditioner is still a luxurious item to many law abiding tax paying Australian citizens.

    It was a tragedy, yes. From the footage, it was clearly the boat was not well equipped, overcrowded, and the route was, without a doubt, not authorised. Since the protesters had idea on calling United Nations to intervene, they should be well aware the tragedy was due to the nature of such high risk action. The children got onboard because their parents took them onboard. Unfortunately, some did not make it.

  4. I stand by what I wrote, and will not comment except to say that it is debatable whether refugees, whatever their mode of entry, are “illegal”.

    I’m kind of curious how you would consider this concept debatable. Illegal immigration is by definition illegal. Would you be kind enough to explain how illegal immigration is not, in fact, illegal, Neil?

    I’ll cook up some popcorn.

  5. *twiddle* *tap*

    I’m wholly intrigued by what you might say next, Neil. Anthony thoroughly and accurately slammed you with facts, and your response was ‘check out my mostly unrelated narcissistic link to myself’ – your standard reaction to information disputing your beliefs.

    It’s like watching Gavin or Hansen tell a freezing world that this is the hottest year ever. I can’t help but watch, but I’m hoping that you turn out looking better than those other two losers.

  6. Kevin, my views about this have been expressed before on this blog — hence the link I gave Antony. I have refrained from comment on the present case because it seems to me far too early. That case will be subject to proper enquiries and I think we should await their findings.

    We don’t have an immigration issue such as you have with Latin America/Mexico, as we have no land borders.

    One of the best commentaries on our situation is the one provided via WikiLeaks from the US Embassy in Canberra, which rightly shows how the issue has been politically hijacked here in Australia. It is linked in the post, but for the record:

    SECRET United States embassy cables have sharply criticised the handling of asylum seekers by the former prime minister Kevin Rudd and accused both Labor and the Coalition of playing partisan politics with the issue.

    The cables reveal that a close adviser to Mr Rudd failed to persuade him to use the government’s powers ”to calmly and rationally put the issue in perspective” by acknowledging that only a small number of asylum seekers were arriving by boat compared with tens of thousands overstaying their visas each year.

    A cable obtained by WikiLeaks and provided exclusively to the Herald says an unnamed “key Liberal Party strategist” told US diplomats in November last year that the issue of asylum seekers was ”fantastic” for the Coalition and ”the more boats that come the better”.

    US embassy reports last year reflect growing Labor concern with the increasing number of asylum boats. American diplomats quickly identified people smuggling as a crucial political test for Mr Rudd.

    The embassy stepped up its reporting on the issue after the explosion that destroyed an asylum vessel off Ashmore Reef on April 16 last year.

    US diplomats noted that the question was “highly emotive” and reported that Labor insiders regarded it as “politically dangerous” for the party that had promised a more humane approach before the 2007 federal election.

    “The Labor Party – which was burnt by this issue at the 2001 election – is fearful of being viewed as ‘soft’ on border security,” the embassy reported to Washington last year.

    Labor sources were keen to explain the government’s difficulties and their own recommendations for a response.

    “Rudd’s former foreign policy/national security adviser in opposition, Peter Khalil (protect) confided to us that Labor Party MPs were very anxious about the asylum-seeker issue due to the events of 2001,” the embassy reported in October last year.

    “In opposition, he advised Rudd to attack the amount of money spent on the Pacific Solution, but this was vetoed by senior party figures. Khalil predicted Rudd will ‘get hit’ by the public on this issue … he contended internal politics made it virtually impossible for Rudd to significantly strengthen border protection laws.”

    Mr Khalil suggested that a better approach was for Mr Rudd “to use the power of government to calmly and rationally put the issue in perspective”, specifically that there were about 60,000 cases of visa overstayers a year, while only 1000 asylum seekers had entered Australian waters by boat by that stage last year.

    US embassy officers agreed, noting that “in terms of overall migration, the surge in asylum seekers is a drop in the ocean”. However, they reported that the prime minister was “not mentioning this, or lauding his government’s more humane approach to asylum seekers”.

    The federal Labor MP Michael Danby told embassy officers that Mr Rudd had “played the politics badly” and ”completely misread” the issue.

    Coalition strategists were reported as saying the issue was “significant because it was the first time Rudd had been exposed for a lack of leadership and for ‘trying to be all things to all people’.”

    The US embassy reported to Washington that in parliamentary debate on the issue Mr Rudd had “returned to tedious spin and bureaucratic jargon, making him look evasive and out of his depth”.

    Reporting on Mr Rudd’s handling of the diplomatic standoff with Indonesia over asylum seekers aboard the Australian customs vessel Oceanic Viking, the embassy bluntly observed that “the PM’s heavy-handed and increasingly awkward spinmeistering has alienated a media corps that has previously given him the benefit of the doubt on most issues”.

    “While our contacts insist that the Australia-Indonesia relationship is strong enough to withstand such irritants, they appear genuinely concerned that this standoff driven largely by Australian domestic politics has cost goodwill with the Indonesians.”

    The embassy’s reports also reveal that Australia has been relying on US assistance in efforts to combat people smuggling.

    One cable reports that a senior executive from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet expressed official gratitude for “intelligence assistance provided by the United States to track people smugglers”.

    Immediately before he was deposed as prime minister, Mr Rudd warned Labor against a “lurch to the right” on asylum seekers. Shortly after becoming Prime Minister, Julia Gillard announced a “tough” new policy, aimed at cracking down on people smuggling, including an effort to establish an offshore processing centre for asylum seekers.

    And this from our Department of Immigration:

    Australia is one of 146 signatory countries to the United Nations 1951 Convention and/or 1967 Protocol relating to the Status of Refugees.

    The Convention defines refugees as people who:

    are outside their country of nationality or their usual country of residence
    are unable or unwilling to return or to seek the protection of that country due to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion
    are not war criminals or people who have committed serious non-political crimes.
    The Convention does not oblige signatory countries to provide protection to people who do not fear persecution and have left their country of nationality or residence on the basis of war, famine, environmental collapse or in order to seek a better life for themselves or their family.

    Protection obligations may also not be owed to a person who already has effective protection in another country, through citizenship or some other right to enter and remain safe in that country.

    International law recognises that people at risk of persecution have a right to flee their country and seek refuge elsewhere, but does not give them a right to enter a country of which they are not a national. Nor do refugees have a right to choose their preferred country of protection.

    There is a debate on whether those arriving by boat should be treated any differently from those arriving by other means or applying for asylum offshore.

  7. Love Irfan Yusuf’s post on this.

    …Syria now holds 290,000 Iraqi refugees, more than 70 per cent of whom have lived there for at least four years. And back in May 2007, The New York Times reported that thousands of Iraqi women have been forced to work in prostitution. The report said:

    Aid workers say $50 to $70 is considered a good night’s wage for an Iraqi prostitute working in Damascus. And some of the Iraqi dancers in the crowded casinos of Damascus suburbs earn much less … From Damascus it is only about six hours by car, passing through Jordan, to the Saudi border. Syria, where it is relatively easy to buy alcohol and dance with women, is popular as a low-cost weekend destination for groups of Saudi men.

    One Iraqi prostitute told the reporter:

    The rents here in Syria are too expensive for their families. If they go back to Iraq they’ll be slaughtered, and this is the only work available.

    This is the orderly queue we hear about. Imagine what evil people would use people smugglers to jump from such a safe and secure environment. Surely the average Aussie, let alone Bolt and Scott Morrison, would happily bring up their families in such circumstances than spend six months in a leaky boat.

    If you had to choose between selling one’s daughter into prostitution and borrowing thousands to hit the high seas, the choice would be obvious. If Australian voters were more aware of the realities refugees from Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran must face, they would punish politicians who used imbecilic terms like “queue-jumper”.

    If anything good comes out of the Christmas Island tragedy, it will be that Australian politicians will have received a reality check. Demonising the most vulnerable should now become political suicide. Voters don’t have the stomach for images of children smashed against rocks and drowning, even if it means a more humane and sensible asylum- seeker policy…

    Irfan Yusuf is a barrister.

  8. Darnit, I can’t find the part where calling illegal immigrants ‘illegal’ is debatable in your posts. Can you ‘splain’ one more time how their not illegal? For stupid folk like me? After all, I live in Louisiana :(.

  9. The people who arrive on Christmas Island have entered unlawfully, that is not by the usual channels while in possession of a valid visa, but are not yet immigrants. Whether they ever become immigrants is to be determined after processing. They are asylum seekers. It is not illegal to seek asylum.

    On the other hand there are many more who do enter the country lawfully with an appropriate visa, usually by plane. If they overstay their visa they become illegal immigrants. They may or may not be asylum seekers.

  10. I see! So they are clearly illegal, but it’s unclear if they’re immigrants. I guess in that case, they are just illegal aliens. The debate is over :). I had a feeling that your claim of whether or not they were illegal was spurious.

    But if it’s any consolation, you are still my favorite Australian whom I disagree with on everything… even spelling sometimes. Colour. Hah! Australians.

  11. I hereby DEMAND that you, Niel, publish another global warming alarmist post. It’s been too long. If you don’t allow demands by your readers, then I humbly request it instead.

    We’re freezing to death up here in the northern hemisphere during Hansen’s warmest year ever, and I need to vent some hot air on the subject! True believers in AGW are becoming few and far between. In fact, you’re the last one I know, 8,000 miles away! Post something that suggests you believe man is overheating the world please.

    (thanks in advance)

  12. Thank you Kevin.

    So entering unlawfully, as you mentioned, is the best way you would label? Is entering a country unlawfully legal then?

    From news:

    One of the 42 survivors has given the first account of what happened on board the boat in the hours leading up to the tragedy. Rana Mohamad, an Iraqi who is now recovering in Perth, has said the crew cut the engines at about 2am, four hours before the boat hit the rocks.
    She said that the crew told the asylum seekers they would soon be picked up by the Australian Navy. They were told to scream to draw attention, but it was not until dawn – hours later – that they were heard.

    So the crew and the illegal arrivals presumably seeking asylum status were expecting Navy’s arrival, so it was Australian law abiding tax payer funded Navy’s fault that Navy did not arrive in time (as what they were protesting about)?

    Perhaps, the UN says seeking asylum status is legal, what about the obviously illegal people smuggling business? Are you going to argue that such business is not illegal also? Those illegal arrivals supported the known illegal people smuggling business, which is an act of facilitating criminal activities. In most states and countries, knowingly facilitating criminal activities is a kind of crime, or in other word, illegal.

    Most parents would be condemned (or shamed at very least) for telling/forcing their kids to perform any life-risking act. It seems like, instead of condemning, some people are using “children died” as a point to change the focus of their illegal act.

    Oh, forgot to mention that on the way back to Perth, there were two passengers escorted by Detention Centre workers.

  13. I agree with Sarah Hanson-Young in the same article you quote.

    Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has said increasing the intake would be a good move, but a change in tone is also needed.

    “All sides of politics have to stop feeding the myth that there are legitimate and illegitimate refugees, good or bad, depending on their mode of arrival,” she has said.

    See also Legal Eagle earlier this year.

    Much has been made in the news about “boat people” arriving in greater numbers. I think that one of the reasons why people react so viscerally to the asylum seeker issue is the symbolism of it — the desperate people on boats attempting to land on our shores — there’s a sense in it is seen as an invasion of our boundaries. We are an island, and we’re not used to people crossing our borders easily. The word “insular” means both “inward-looking” and “of, or pertaining to, an island”. If we shared a border with another country, perhaps we’d find it less challenging. I believe, also, that people find newcomers challenging because it’s a deep-seated human instinct. Rather than pigeonholing people who are afraid as inevitably racist, and writing off their fears, it’s better to engage with those fears and try to allay them, to ensure that integration can occur as smoothly as possible. It’s not good, either, to pretend that problems don’t occur from time to time – of course they do, and sometimes problems emanate from both sides of the fence, newcomers and existing residents (as I have discussed in relation to Sudanese refugees).

    It seems to me that asylum seekers wouldn’t need to make the risky and possibly life threatening journey if it were easier to apply for a visa from outside the territory. So, rather than excising various areas from the migration zone (Christmas Island & etc) or detaining people who come here illegally, maybe it would be better to make it easier for legitimate asylum seekers to apply for refugee status from outside Australia, and to make sure that the visas you got were roughly comparable. That way, people wouldn’t feel the need to risk their lives to come here. To me, it seems really stupid to be putting all these resources into patrolling the seas, detaining people, prosecuting people smugglers and the like when perhaps there’s another way of fixing the issue…

    Click to see full size.

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