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[P]
Norwegian/Australian refugee conflict

By haro in News
Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 01:21:07 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
News

A Norwegian cargo ship responded to a rescue call from the Australian authorities and rescued 438 Afghan refugees. Now the ship has been boarded by Australian soldiers after having entered Australian territory off Christmas Island.

There are reports on BBC and CNN describing this story.

Update [2001-9-1 17:0:3 by cp]: Reuters is reporting that Australia has reached a deal with New Zealand and Nauru for those nations to take the refugees in and process them for their eventual departure to other countries.


According to reports on Norwegian radio, international law gives the captain full authority to determine that his ship is not seaworthy and to seek emergency harbour. The lack of medicine and facilities has made the captain declare an emergency. This is what the Australian government now refuses to grant despite pleas from the Norwegian government.

The humanitarian solution would clearly be to let the refugees ashore, and resolve the question what to do with them later. This does not seem to be a popular solution in Australia as there has been a large influx of boat refugees to Christmas Island lately. There is an upcoming election in Australia, and it looks as if the tough policy on immigration is a vote winner.

A promise of granting the refugees entry to Norway ahead of letting them ashore is unlikely. It could set precedence in an area of international law that from the reports I have seen is not completely clear on "who has the responsibility", but IANAL. In addition Norway is in the final weeks of a general election campaign, and it is only a year ago that the polls put an immigration hostile party on top.

I have to declare my bias - I'm Norwegian, and will vote against the current government, but not for the immigration hostile party mentioned above.

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Norwegian/Australian refugee conflict | 46 comments (46 topical, editorial, 0 hidden)
Difficult problem (3.75 / 4) (#1)
by nobbystyles on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:13:17 AM EST

The refugees on the ship seem to be mostly Afghanis. Horrible Taliban regime and a terrible drought means that there will be huge numbers of refugees from this country. It's currently running into millions. Every western country is scared of acting as a soft touch and thereby gaining the reputation as a safe haven.

So this is why we have this tussle between the Norwegians and Auusies over who takes responsibility. Rationally the Aussies should as they are nearer and it was the Australian coastguard which directed the Norwegian ship to prescue these refugees.

Typically bureaucratic (4.00 / 4) (#2)
by Anonymous 242 on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:19:31 AM EST

What is it about governmental bureaucracy that gives off the impression that the decision makers are on crack? Hey, go answer the distress signal from this boat, but don't bring the people from the boat into our waters!

What do Australian authorities propose the Norwegians do? Set sail for Oslo with 400+ refugees and a rather limited supply of food? I could be wrong, but it seems to me that Austalia to Norway on ten days worth of food wouldn't be very comfortable. Then again, I have no clue as to how long it would take for that trip.

And to think that I once wanted to move to Australia. I think that perhaps the Australian government is one of the few that is giving the USian government a run for the money in idiotic maneuvers.

Regards,

-l

Australian government stupidity (4.00 / 1) (#27)
by Pseudonym on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 12:51:43 AM EST

The Australian government certainly seems to make more idiotic manoevures than some other countries (Dubya notwithstanding), I'll grant you that.

However, remember that here on k5 we only learn the bad things. Have a read, for example, of Bill Bryson's Down Under, if you'd like to know the good news. Australia has, IMO, gotten most things right. You can see this by looking at our media. Our "mainstream" journalists are probably the most tabloid in the world. (I say "mainstream" because it's hard to beat Fleet Street for tabloid, but here in Australia, pretty much every journalist is sensationalist.) It's almost as if there isn't enough to complain about, so we have to invent things to keep the public interested.

The problem is that recently, we've made a lot of stupid decisions which don't affect most of the general population (yet). Our internet censorship regime and our Digital Agenda Act spring to mind. But then, we're hardly unique in this respect (think CDA and DMCA).

The problem of boat people really caught us unprepared. In late 1999, all of a sudden people just started turning up. An unseaworthy vessel would appear from out of nowhere around Christmas Island or Ashmore Reef about once every two weeks, each with 300 or so people on board. It's kind of like the problem that the US had with Cubans showing up during the 1980s.

Imagine if a school suddenly had to deal with a huge influx of people into the area. Say the school was built for 500 students and, within the space of 6 months, had to deal with 1500. Obviously we need to throw money at the problem. Build more buildings, hire more teachers and so on. But for a while, possibly a significant while, you're going to have to deal with overcrowding, poor teaching due to high student-to-staff ratios and so on.

No, we're not dealing with the problem well at all. In the end, though, I have no idea how we could do it better. We're all in a bad situation. The boat people, those of them who are real refugees, the Australian government, the Norwegian government, the Indonesian government, the captain of the Tampa, the public servants who are just trying to do the best they can with the funding and resources that they have... there are no easy decisions to be made here.



sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Come on Australia (4.00 / 5) (#3)
by MicroBerto on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:52:58 AM EST

You know, it is possible to be hard-lined while SITLL being humanitarian.

My stance is that immigrants should be allowed in -- however, they get NO second chance. If they commit a crime or injure another Australian, then they get deported/tortured/punished, and made an example of. Sure, let them in, give them jobs, give them a second chance on life. But they must know that they better be coming to Australia to get back into the world - not to cause trouble, have babies for free, or expect government aid. After, say, 5 years of good behavior, they get citizenship.

This is just a rough idea of what I think could possibly work. I haven't researched it or anything like that.

Berto
- GAIM: MicroBerto
Bertoline - My comic strip

Thoughts... (3.80 / 5) (#4)
by Sven on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:56:35 AM EST

I'm Australian. I started to respond to this, but it was coming out as a massive incoherent rant. Perhaps it would be better if I just summarise...
  • Australians are tired of boat-loads of "refugees" arriving every week or two. They riot, escape, and complain about the way they're treated and cost Australian taxpayers $200 million per year to accomodate.
  • The Norweigan ship has entered Australian waters illegally. The government is currently trying to pass legislation to allow the ship to be forcibly removed. It surprises me that these laws are necessary given that the ship was refused entry into Australian waters.
  • I believe the statement about the lack of medical supplies is rubbish. The Australian government flew doctors and medical supplies to the ship yesterday.
  • Why does nobody expect Indonesia to accept the refugees, even though they were picked up half-way between Indonesia and Australia?
  • The Taliban have asked nicely that Australia accept the refugees. Perhaps Australia would be more likely to do so if Australian aid workers weren't being held in Afghani jails.
S

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense
Re: Thoughts... (3.50 / 2) (#6)
by haro on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 11:27:17 AM EST

The Norweigan ship has entered Australian waters illegally.

I think that this is at least in question. The captain is according to international law the sole arbitrator of whether the ship is seaworthy. He was promised supplies, but none arived, at least not until the soldiers came to stop the ship from enterning Australian waters.

Let me quote from a norwegian newspaper:

After 3 days the situation became so critical that the captain chose to enter despite being refused entry. Repeated requests for medical help were ignored. Several of the refugees shal have been unconsious, 2 pregnant women complained of pains.

...

The soldiers have brought with them medical personell, at least 3 doctors. The soldiers themselves say they are there to protect the medical personell

[ Parent ]

Entering Australian waters (none / 0) (#32)
by ajf on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 06:07:59 AM EST

I think that this is at least in question. The captain is according to international law the sole arbitrator of whether the ship is seaworthy. He was promised supplies, but none arived, at least not until the soldiers came to stop the ship from enterning Australian waters.

The government's position is that the location of the distressed fishing boat (which was Indonesian) was in an area that is supposed to be Indonesia's responsibility, and that the nearest Indonesian port is the correct place to take the refugees, and that Australia is not obliged to accept them. The BBC's interview with Rinnan (linked to in the story) seems to support that view, since he says he headed for Indonesia first but was dissuaded by the refugees.

There seems to be some doubt over whether it's legal to refuse entry now that the ship is clearly just off Christmas Island, though.

I'm rather troubled that the government saw fit to send the military in to take control of the Tampa, though, and even more disturbed that they attempted to rush legislation through parliament to make sure it was legal to do so, after the fact.



"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
The legal situation (none / 0) (#38)
by haro on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 10:31:26 AM EST

I have on radio and TV heard a number of different views on the legal situation. The only thing that I find clear, is that the legal situation is unclear. What I have heard gives me reason to believe:

  • The captain was in his legal right to enter Australian territory.
  • Australia has an obligation to help once an emergency was declared.
What opinion - and this is the opinion of Norwegian layers probably inadequately interpreted by me - differs on, is who has the legal responsibility for the refugees.

The range of opinions varies from on one end a layer who said that the ship by saving the refugees, effectively gave the ship owner and the nation of the ship, i.e. Norway, full legal responsibility for them. On the other end was another layer who said that by sending soldiers to the ship, and declaring that Australia had control over the ship, Australia gave the refugees the right to seek asylum there.

[ Parent ]

Refugees are people too (4.33 / 3) (#9)
by codemonkey_uk on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 11:52:24 AM EST

Point by point:
  • Just because you got their first doesn't give you the right to treat these people like animals. People treated fairly, rather than imprisoned like animals, do not riot just for fun, and people who are permitted to work for a living do not "cost the tax payers", because the are tax payers.
  • The letter of the law is an irrelevancy when faced with the lives of innocent people.
  • No comment.
  • I don't know, and its not really the point. *I* would expect Indonesia and Australia to be equally responsible. That said, in the face of irresponsibility, the best course of action is not imitation and finger pointing, but responsible action.
  • An eye for an eye? Whatever your governments position with regards the Taliban, letting innocent civilians die on an over crowded ship is simply immoral.

---
Thad
"The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way." - Bertrand Russell
[ Parent ]
Indeed, but... (4.00 / 1) (#14)
by Sven on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 07:17:35 PM EST

If they don't like the conditions in Australia, perhaps they shouldn't have chosen to come here in the first place. Most people on the boats pay between $2,000 and $10,000 to come to Australia, which I gather is a lot of money in their countries of origin and certainly implies that they have a choice about where they go. People come to Australia because we're seen as a soft target.

It seems to me that when it comes to boat people, Australia is expected to do more than her fair share when ultimately the courts will find the people have no right to refugee status and are just flow home six months later.

I think the Australian government would be happy to let the ship land in Australia if we were able to avoid providing six months accomodation and numerous court cases. Perhaps if other countries in the region helped out from time to time, the problem would magically go away.

S

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense
[ Parent ]

Most become legal and stay (4.00 / 1) (#16)
by driptray on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 07:53:55 PM EST

It seems to me that when it comes to boat people, Australia is expected to do more than her fair share when ultimately the courts will find the people have no right to refugee status and are just flow home six months later.

Not true. The vast majority of "illegal immigrants" into Australia end up getting visas and settling in Australia. IIRC it is only about 10% who are rejected and are sent back to their country of origin.

Australia is currently in the middle of an incredibly overblown "illegal immigrants" scare campaign, something which seems to have emerged straight from the early days of the 20th century where fear of the Asian hordes was a constant thread in Australian politics.

Of course it is especially ironic considering that the first wave of European immigration to Australia were themselves "illegal immigrants" and "boat people".


--
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
Really? (5.00 / 1) (#18)
by Sven on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 08:16:29 PM EST

Is that the case? I was going by reports in the mainstream media, admittedly not the world's most reliable source. After your comment I did some research. The Refugee Council of Australia's website shows that only 7.6% of asylum applications are granted. Can you give me a source for your 90%?

S

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense
[ Parent ]

I was a bit out... (5.00 / 1) (#19)
by driptray on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 08:41:47 PM EST

I was remembering figures quoted by Alan Ramsey in the SMH. In this article he says:

Despite perceptions, illegal arrivals by boat do well through our asylum system. Of the 10,167 such arrivals since March, 1996, only 1,341 (or 13.2 per cent) have been deported, though another 450 remain under deportation orders; while of the total 11,380 illegals (boat and air) sent to detention centres in this period, 7,699 (or 56 per cent) to date have received asylum visas, including 4,509 in the past 12 months alone.

I don't know where Alan Ramsey got these figures. The figure you quote (7.6%) is for "primary applications", but from what I understand the Tribunal that reviews those decisions does not often reverse them, so I would expect that the overall figure would be similar.

So we seem to be stuck between some contradictory statistics...


--
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
That's a good thing (4.00 / 1) (#23)
by jbrw on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:01:51 PM EST

Surely it's a good thing most are being allowed to stay?

They're being processed, going through an applications process, and proving to the government that they are genuine asylum seekers who are fleeing from real problems from whereever they came from.

One of the main facets to the Australian psyche is being given a "fair go". Are these 400 people stuck off the coast of Christmas Island being given a fair go to prove that they are fleeing from some sort of danger?
---
"We beat the .usians at their own game of zero tolerance"
[ Parent ]
Yes, it's a good thing (4.00 / 1) (#24)
by driptray on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 10:46:40 PM EST

With the exception of Aborigines, Australia, like the USA, is an immigrant nation. Considering that the majority of "illegal" immigrants become legal, the current hysteria about "boat people" in Australia can only be explained by an ambivalence about immigration in general.

Newspapers in Australia are running stories about "illegal immigrants" right next to stories about "ethnic crime gangs" (always Muslim) who rape "Australian" women. Many readers seem to be making a connection between the two stories.

One of the main facets to the Australian psyche is being given a "fair go".

Don't forget racism and zenophobia as some other main facets. OK, they're harsh and inflammatory words, but since European "settlement" Australia has had racism at its core, whether it was with regards to dispossessing Aborigines, or keeping out the "teeming hordes of Asia". Its really only been the last 30 years or so that these racist ideas have been contested, and they seem to be quite resilient.

Are these 400 people stuck off the coast of Christmas Island being given a fair go to prove that they are fleeing from some sort of danger?

No.


--
We brought the disasters. The alcohol. We committed the murders. - Paul Keating
[ Parent ]
ehh? (3.00 / 1) (#11)
by arcade on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 05:46:55 PM EST

Australians are tired of boat-loads of "refugees" arriving every week or two. They riot, escape, and complain about the way they're treated and cost Australian taxpayers $200 million per year to accomodate.

Why am I not impressed? You've got more than enough people there so that that is like .. NOTHING.

The Norweigan ship has entered Australian waters illegally.

Thats a lie. Its illegal for Australia to deny it passage, as it is NOT fit to travel on the sea with that many passengers.

The government is currently trying to pass legislation to allow the ship to be forcibly removed. It surprises me that these laws are necessary given that the ship was refused entry into Australian waters.

Your senate rejected those laws. Also, it would be illegal to force the captain out into international waters, as there is not enough rescue-equipment for all those passengers. According to international treaties the ship is NOT FIT at the moment.

I believe the statement about the lack of medical supplies is rubbish. The Australian government flew doctors and medical supplies to the ship yesterday.

Rubbish. Lies. The supplies were not brought to the ship. Also, your military doctors _Refuse_ to help the refugees while the norwegian ship are in your waters. What are you waiting for? Casualties?

Why does nobody expect Indonesia to accept the refugees, even though they were picked up half-way between Indonesia and Australia?

That is not the important matter right now. Right now a ship which is NOT fit to go into open waters with that many passengers are sitting in Australian Waters, by christmas island. The important thing right now is to get those refugees to land, and get the pregnant women with stomack-cramps treates. Get the passed out people treated. Get them treated for diphteria, skin-diseases and so forth.

One has to wonder, your government has made itself a safety valve by saying they won't let the ship get to land except under exceptional emergency-circumstances. Well, I guess you idiot sons of bitches are just waiting for the first death. Its tragic.

The Taliban have asked nicely that Australia accept the refugees. Perhaps Australia would be more likely to do so if Australian aid workers weren't being held in Afghani jails.

That is _irrelevant_. Totally _irrelevant_. There are people in jeopardy outside your coast because your government is a bunch of sick bastards. And you start arguing "what about them, they are just as bad". How stupid is it possible to get?

*Fume*

--
arcade
[ Parent ]
Perhaps (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by Sven on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 08:54:00 PM EST

Perhaps a reaction like yours is exactly what the government is after. They're sick of Australia being seen as a soft target, and a dumping ground for the world's problems.

I assume that your facts about Australian doctors refusing to help and it being illegal to deny the ship passage come from Norwegian media. Similarly, I've read in the Australian media that doctors found nobody on board needed medical treatment and it is perfectly legal for Australia to control access to her own waters. So who is correct?

S

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense
[ Parent ]

re: Perhaps (1.00 / 1) (#29)
by arcade on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 03:19:23 AM EST

I assume that your facts about Australian doctors refusing to help and it being illegal to deny the ship passage come from Norwegian media. Similarly, I've read in the Australian media that doctors found nobody on board needed medical treatment and it is perfectly legal for Australia to control access to her own waters. So who is correct?

Nobody aboard that needed medical treatment? Excuse me? Your doctors reported 1. person with a fracture, and several people _severely dehydrated_ (which were probably the unconcsious people the captain reported.

Get your facts straight, australian idiot. If I hade the chance, I would _spit_ on you

Yes, I find both you and your government discusting.



--
arcade
[ Parent ]
Re: Perhaps (none / 0) (#34)
by Sven on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 06:33:18 AM EST

Nobody aboard that needed medical treatment? Excuse me?

That's what was reported in ABC News yesterday. If they archived old stories I'd find the link.

Get your facts straight, australian idiot. If I hade the chance, I would _spit_ on you

Congratulations. I think this conversation has reached its logical conclusion.

--
harshbutfair - you know it makes sense
[ Parent ]

Logic? I'm not _logic_ in this matter. (none / 0) (#41)
by arcade on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 12:38:01 PM EST

Congratulations. I think this conversation has reached its logical conclusion.

Logical? Eh? Spitting is a way of showing how much _disrespect_ one has for someone. I do not have a _shred_ of respect neither for you nor your government. That both YOU _and_ your government _fail to realize_ that Tampa just acted on request from _your government_ - and they _you_ say "nonono, we don't want to have anything to do with this" - then you are both without any form of honor.



--
arcade
[ Parent ]
Thoughts... (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by tomvale8 on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 09:16:28 PM EST

I'm Australian. I started to respond to this, but it was coming out as a massive incoherent rant. Perhaps it would be better if I just summarise...

For the record, I'm Australian too...

* Australians are tired of boat-loads of "refugees" arriving every week or two. They riot, escape, and complain about the way they're treated and cost Australian taxpayers $200 million per year to accomodate.

Self appointed spokesman I see. I'm not tired of refugees arriving, providing they are genuine refugees. If they're not, we send them back - if they are, we let them stay. it comes down to helping people in need. Human Beings.

You say these people "riot escape, and complain" - you would be too if you where thrown in a Villawood or a Woomera (you ever been there?!). $200 Million is nothing in terms of humanitarian aid. We give money to plenty of worse off countries in our region and around the world.

* The Norweigan ship has entered Australian waters illegally. The government is currently trying to pass legislation to allow the ship to be forcibly removed. It surprises me that these laws are necessary given that the ship was refused entry into Australian waters.

Never got through. I thought it was a nice touch to introduce a law that is "retrospective". Sort of changing the rules as they go along, no? Moving the goalposts perhaps?

* I believe the statement about the lack of medical supplies is rubbish. The Australian government flew doctors and medical supplies to the ship yesterday.

We did get military doctors on the Tampa, and they did look at the injured.

* Why does nobody expect Indonesia to accept the refugees, even though they were picked up half-way between Indonesia and Australia?

This is the heart of it. I believe the boat was in international waters when the Tampa picked up the refugees. The closest port is in Indonesia. The law of the sea states that they should be taken there. The only reason Australia is involved in this matter is because these people refused to go back to Indonesia (at threat of self harm) and insisted on being taken to Australia. They should have been taken to Indonesia, yes, but what's a captain going to do when these people start saying they're going to jump if he turns back? He has no choice. We have to let him come to Australia, even if the Indonesians accepted them back - they refuse to go back.

There is a point to be made that these people - if genuinly escaping Afganistan - then they had already escaped the country. They went through Indonesia so it looks like these people are indeed 'country shopping'. They could have tried for many other countries but for whatever reason they chose Australia...

Christmas Island is much closer to Indonesia than to Australia, but it certainly is not equipped for a massive influx like this.

We have to take these people in, even if in the end we process them and ship them back. We are happy to do it with anyone who makes it to Australia waters, so what's the difference? Howard is pushing this hard because he wants to look like he has some balls about him and can stand up to the international community. He's trying to make a wave to ride to the election - where labor are close to unbackable favourites. Trying to invoke a sense of national pride and righteousness - and it's working on the great unwashed...

* The Taliban have asked nicely that Australia accept the refugees. Perhaps Australia would be more likely to do so if Australian aid workers weren't being held in Afghani jails.

Perhaps, but perhaps they would be nicer to our people if we showed them a little compassion. Turning these people away is hardly going to help the matters with the captured Australians.

Lets just stop piss-farting about and let the ship dock (in Darwin, or Fremantle I guess). We stay friendly with the Norwegians (nice people), and we have enough trouble with Indonesia, we don't need any more.

This country was built from migrants - except for the Aboriginal people that is (and even then it's a matter of going back long enough) - and people who have something to offer, or are fleeing oppression are welcome in my book.

Tom Vale

[ Parent ]
Just to clarify (none / 0) (#31)
by moosh on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 05:20:08 AM EST

I'm also Australian. Your first point interests me as you feel you can make a sweeping generalisation about all Australians. I don't know where you got the idea from, but if you are basing the "fact" that "Australians are tired of boat-loads of 'refugees' arriving every week or two" on those ridiculous phone polls the news are having, I must say - they're rubbish. How exactly did they expect people to respond? The mass media has rammed down largely negative views of these people for a while, the fact that they have a story every half month - month about some riot in a detention centre, this has already affected the public's view. Now, in the last few days they've increased the load of bullshit exponentially and fed it out to the public, basically *telling* them what to feel, and then ask "well, how do you feel?". How do you think people are going to respond?!

Sure, people have a mind of their own but don't tell me the mass media doesn't have a great influence in society.

Perhaps its time for a headline in Australian news like, "Refugee comes to Australia, contributes to society and lives well." But hey, our oyster of a Prime Minister John Howard wouldn't agree to that.

[ Parent ]
On boat people (none / 0) (#33)
by ajf on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 06:31:43 AM EST

Today's Age contained quite a lot of coverage of this story today, unsurprisingly. In particular, it's interesting to note that Australia receives a tiny fraction of the number of Afghani refugees that go to Europe, so complaining about Australia having to care for more than its fair share of refugees is simply absurd.

The costs you describe are how much money it costs to detain refugee status applicants. Those costs are high because the government chooses to build and operate detention centres. An opinion piece in today's paper suggests that expanding eligibility for the already-existing Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (which is available to people who apply for asylum while in Australia with a valid visa) would be considerably cheaper than detention.

The obvious reason nobody expects Indonesia to accept the refugees is that they're sitting four nautical miles from Christmas Island. We can argue for as long as we want whether they should have been taken to Indonesia (as I believe they should have, since that was their point of departure and the home of the fishing boat they were aboard), but it's a simple fact that they are here now, and they require medical attention.

The Taliban's behaviour is no excuse for more appalling behaviour, and pointing out their hypocrisy isn't a particularly remarkable revelation either. And there's no chance Australia's position would be different if those people weren't imprisoned by Afghanistan.



"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
Some more points to ponder... (4.60 / 5) (#5)
by Tezcatlipoca on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 11:17:48 AM EST

-Indonesia has been also involved, if I understand correclty the refugees came from there initialy and the Indonesian goverment denied permission from them to stay.

-Muslims boast quite frequently how much they are willing to help each other. The Quoran(sp), the Muslim holy book, instructs Muslims to provide shelter and food for the needy. Indonesia, as a Muslim country, has failed miserably to uphold both Muslim and International principles relating to asylum.

-I could write something in a similar vein relating to Christian Australians, but would be a waste of time. Suffice to say that the press over there is emphasizing how this people are from another religion, and as such they can't fit in Australian society. You qualify that sort of comments.

-Everybody is horrorized about the Taliban, but as soon as something concrete has to be done about it 2 rich countries and the bigest Muslim country squander the hot potato in a shameful manner.

-Australia and Norway have refugees that can be counted by the thousends(72000 and 47900). Iran and Pakistan count them by millions(1.8 and 1.2 respectively) and even countries like Tanzania (634000) are more determined and clear about their international obligations (check The Economist, 25 Aug) still those rich nations complain about a relatively small burden of whatever amount of refugees this ship is carrying. The reality is that most refugees choose or have to stay as close to home as possible.

Is a real damning indictment that propsperous countries (or fellow Muslim countries for that matter) can't show a hint of humanitarianism.

That is real politics 101 for the decent people shaking their heads around the world.


------------------------------------
"They only think of me as a Mexican,
an Indian or a Mafia don"
Mexican born actor Anthony Quinn on
Hol
Christian Australians (none / 0) (#15)
by gsl on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 07:17:58 PM EST

-I could write something in a similar vein relating to Christian Australians, but would be a waste of time. Suffice to say that the press over there is emphasizing how this people are from another religion, and as such they can't fit in Australian society. You qualify that sort of comments.

Not in the press I've been reading or watching. If we're going to be making sweeping generalizations then I would say Australia is pretty tolerant of religion and culture. In fact, if anything Australians are rather indifferent when it comes to religion (I know I am). In the eyes of the electorate, it is probably more important for an Australian politician to demonstrate allegiance to a football team than to a church.

I don't have the figures but Islam is not an insignificant religion in Australia. Certainly where I have lived for the past two years (inner suburban Melbourne) there is no shortage of women in Muslim garb (predominantly Turkish or Lebanese, I think).

So criticise Australia and its government for how it has handled this affair, but I don't think religion is now or ever a reason for banning the ship.

Geoff.



[ Parent ]
Some background... (none / 0) (#7)
by Pseudonym on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 11:34:22 AM EST

Australian law requires that those who arrive in Australia without visas be detained until any claims they make to stay in Australia (e.g. claims of refugee status) is determined, or until arrangements are made to deport them. This is important because not all of the people turning up are truly "refugees" by the UNHCR's definition. According to the Flood report, we have an amazing array of people in detention, from true refugees to former terrorists. Some lie about which country they came from. Some have paid money ($10,000-$25,000 or so) to "people smugglers" who have told them all sorts of lies about how quickly Australia welcomes people.

In 1999 an Australia had an unprecedented increase in the number of illegal immigrants, mostly in the form of "boat people". So many, in fact, that we have had to build two more centres to hold these people, and we had to do it rather hastily. There is widespread feeling amongst the Australian people that Australia does not manage these centres properly, and that detainees are treated unfairly and, in some cases, inhumanely. You get the impression that Australians feel that we'd love to do something about these people, but we can't look after the people we have, let alone 400+ more.

I'm not going to claim that Australia is in the "right" by refusing the Norwegian ship entry, but either way we're in a difficult situation.



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Erm, you've got plenty of land (none / 0) (#8)
by nobbystyles on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 11:41:42 AM EST

And you're a rich country. Why can't you look after 400 Afghan refugees?

[ Parent ]
We've got plenty of desert (none / 0) (#13)
by malcolm on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 07:03:23 PM EST

The problem isn't 400 Afganis (who may or may not be refugees), it's the thousands of people who get picked up by the Australian coast guard evey year and the millions of others in Asia and the Middle East who are looking for a way across.

Australia has always has a considerable amount of immigration and has benefited greatly from it. This includes many genuine political refugees. However, there have also been negative effects from immigration such as the formation of ethnic gangs, and most Australians are strongly against unchecked immigration. Not only this, but many of these "refugees" are real criminals and even terrorists who are fleeing the law in their home country.

So we check the identity of every illegal immigrant, all of whom are trying to gain refugee status. Most of them destroy (or have destroyed)all their identification before they get here, many won't even give their correct country of origin, so this takes a long time. During this time, we keep them in detention centers, which costs a lot of money and can have very bad conditions, particuarly in the middle of an Australian summer.

We can and do look after many illegal immigrants, but their numbers are growing every year, the cost is growing every year and criticism over how it is being handled grows every year. It is not a simple problem.



[ Parent ]
Land, population, infrastructure and money (none / 0) (#25)
by Pseudonym on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 12:12:23 AM EST

The problem comes down to money and infrastructure.

We do have about the same amount of land as the United States (not including Alaska), but we have the population of New York City. The main reason for this is that most of our land is uninhabitable desert.

Now we are a rich country, but an awful lot of our money goes into sustaining widely separated population centres. A particular problem is defence. How do you defend a continent this size with such a small millitary?

The final problem is that we don't know if these 420 or so people are truly refugees or not. Those that come in via the UNHCR we know are refugees because they're already screened for us. Those that turn up in a boat need to be processed. Doing this costs something like $105 per detainee per day. If the processing takes a year (which it sometimes does, especially if the boat people turn up with no identification, as they often do) that's $16 million. Not a great deal in GNP terms, but a significant chunk of budget nonetheless.



sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
One more thing... (none / 0) (#26)
by Pseudonym on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 12:21:09 AM EST

I'm not trying to defend the Australian government. In fact, I have the most compassion for the captain and crew of the Norwegian ship. About the only thing I could fault the captain on is entering Australian waters after being ordered not to, but he almost certainly did this out of desperation. I'm just trying to report the mood of the Australian government and Australian population. We're in a difficult situation. Our immigration system is severely overloaded, and adding 420 more people will just make things worse.

I do feel sorry for the boat people, actually, but I'm not sure I'd wish our detention centres on them.

One more thing you have to understand is that our current Prime Minister, John Howard, has made a career out of not backing down on anything. Once the decision has been made, nothing will shift him. He sees this as a sign of strength. If you've ever seen John Howard, you'd probably think that he was trying to make up for something. He is, without a doubt, the most personality-free individual I've ever seen and will almost certainly be voted out of office this time around.



sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
Australia? Afghanistan? Norway? (3.00 / 1) (#10)
by Kasreyn on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 05:13:41 PM EST

What is this, the Refugee World Tour?

How does Australia wind up with "problems" with "boatloads" of Afghani refugees? Afghanistan is a nation tucked between the middle east and India. There are quite a few thousand miles between it and Australia by ocean.

Or is it a case of, Norwegian freighter picks up refugees, then merrily goes about its previously scheduled trip, breaks down offshore of Australia? Because no other explanation would seem to make sense. Besides, how do you have Afghani refugees fleeing by boat? Their country happens to be land locked.


-Kasreyn


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
What happend was as follows (5.00 / 1) (#12)
by arcade on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 05:50:55 PM EST

Or is it a case of, Norwegian freighter picks up refugees, then merrily goes about its previously scheduled trip, breaks down offshore of Australia? Because no other explanation would seem to make sense. Besides, how do you have Afghani refugees fleeing by boat? Their country happens to be land locked.

I do not know how they got to sea in the first place. The norwegian freighter Tampa got involved when it responded to a distress call made by the _Australian Coast Guard_. They requested that the Tampa helped rescue people that had to abandon a refugee ship, because it was sinking!

The norwegian ship picked the refugees out of the water. The refugees _took control_ of the ship, and demanded passage to australia.

The captain brought them to Christmas Island.

Now, Australia - which requested that Tampa should help pick up the refugees in the first place - are Nay'ing Tampa passage to Australia.



--
arcade
[ Parent ]
What happened was as follows (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by kawika on Sun Sep 02, 2001 at 04:52:24 PM EST

One important point which seems to have been only briefly mentioned in the news: the distress call from the refugees was relayed to the Australian Coast Guard via the Indonesian government. From early accounts, the Indonesian government asked the Australians for help, who then radioed the Tampa, which was the closest vessel.

Another point is that the Tampa then proceeded to the nearest port, as per maritime law, which happened to be an Indonesian port whose name escapes me. Once they arrived, they were forced to turn back by the refugees threatening to throw themselves overboard rather than be dropped off on Indonesian soil. Fearing for the lives of the 460 odd people on board, the Captain of the Tampa then turned around and headed for Christmas Island as the refugees demanded.

Both of these points are seldom heard in the media nowadays, mainly because all of the shouting is focused on what to do -now-, rather than the exact events leading up to this point.

[ Parent ]

Afghanistan, Indonesia, Australia, Norway (none / 0) (#35)
by ajf on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 06:44:27 AM EST

I believe the Tampa had just left Fremantle (a port in Western Australia) when they were sent to aid the sinking boat, so they were heading away from Australia.

The refugees had been in Indonesia apparently, but I've got no idea how they got there.



"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
And in the meantime... (4.83 / 6) (#17)
by cyberdruid on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 07:57:45 PM EST

[The lump of sadness in my throat tells me that I do not want to live on this planet any longer. When is the next spaceship out of here due?]
Norway blamed Australia. Australia blamed Indonesia. Indonesia wanted nothing to do with the matter.

And in the meantime hundreds of people needed food...

Norway printed headlines in the nations newspapers showing the righteousness of the Norwegian captain (and thus, in a lesser degree, of the entire population of Norway) and the egoism of Australia. This sold well. In the Australian papers the goverment flexed their muscles and said that it was time to take action against the immoral, ungrateful, rioting, muslims that rob money from the nations strained budget. The voters were pleased.

And in the meantime hundreds of people were suffering from disease...

Propaganda is effective. The people from the involved countries started blaming each others governments and flaming each other in posts on a website. They were all sure that they knew the truth. The papers that they read told them so.

And in the meantime hudreds of people where dying...

A difficult situation, indeed. But, oh joyous day, a lawyer found the solution. Norway could not be guilty, since the captain was just acting on a distress call. Australia could not be guilty, since the ship had entered illegally. Everyone could go back to be contently happy of their fine moral standards, the ship could be justly sent on its way and the territorial battles of nations with the collective maturity of kindergarden-kids (just like every other nation) were solved.

And in the meantime hudreds of people where dead.

Libertarianism and the refugees (none / 0) (#44)
by greenrd on Sun Sep 02, 2001 at 10:41:47 AM EST

This situation clearly illustrates the moral bankruptcy of libertarianism. According to libertarianism, no-one can ever have a moral obligation to give food or medical care to anyone. Following this so-called "ethic" will result in people dying.


"Capitalism is the absurd belief that the worst of men, for the worst of reasons, will somehow work for the benefit of us all." -- John Maynard Keynes
[ Parent ]

One Australian's perspective (5.00 / 5) (#22)
by HalfFlat on Wed Aug 29, 2001 at 09:27:21 PM EST

When I read in the papers of the apparently large support for the Government's actions in this situation, I was surprised. Is such a significant proportion of the population really this heartless?

The chief arguments against accepting them seem to be:

  1. Australia needs to take a tough stand in order to discourage further attempts at illegal immigration.
  2. Accepting them into our inadequately resourced detention camps would constitute an unbearable extra burden.
  3. As these people payed people-smugglers to make their passage to Australia, they should be regarded as queue-jumpers. They should apply to the Australian consulates like everyone else.
There are some other long-standing arguments for the current hard stance against asylum seekers:
  1. Hard stance as a deterrent (same as above).
  2. They are a burden on Australia, and Australian tax payers.
  3. They might be terrorists.
  4. Accepting asylum seekers en masse will "dilute Australian culture".
It's this last one which I think is the most important, and the one which strangely you'll rarely if ever see in print. I suspect it's the underlying fear behind all the other excuses. In the following, I hope to justify this belief, and also argue against the other purported reasons.

To begin with, let's examine some of the other claims. Some can be dismissed quite quickly.

  • They might be terrorists.So might a lot of people. While it's unwise to have no suspicions, it's hardly reasonable to presume that people are terrorists or criminals first, and require proof that they are not. At least in the sort of society we say we want to be.
  • They are a burden on taxpayers; the detention system is already overtaxed.The question is: why have a detention system at all? A number of other countries (Sweden springs to mind) don't automatically detain asylum seekers. Australia for example doesn't typically detain those US and UK visitors who are here illegally through overstaying their visas. While the applications of these people are being processed, why exactly do they need to be locked up? Are they inherently less trustworthy than the overstaying English person on a tourist visa? If we don't have the detention centres, then suddenly processing these applications becomes much cheaper. Further, it is important to bear in mind that modern Australia is a product of immigration; even since the Second World War, our society has changed dramatically and become more prosperous as a direct result of the efforts of immigrants to the country. It seems harsh to presume that these people would automatically become a burden rather than help support our society when all the past evidence indicates that immigrants to Australia have been very beneficial both socially and economically.
  • It sets a deterrent. One may ask why we should be deterring asylum seekers in the first place, but even then, how exactly does this message get to these desperate people? Those profitting from the situation - the people-smugglers - aren't about to say to their potential customers that it's a low percentage shot. Many of those seeking refuge are coming from countries where it is very difficult to get trustworthy information about counditions elsewhere. Further, the past hard-line stance has certainly not stemmed the tide of those seeking asylum here, as this very incident demonstrates.
  • They are rich queue-jumpers. It certainly would be nice, yes, to be able to help the poor people from these countries who seek refuge, but can't pay the prices people-smugglers ask. Yet does that mean we should turn away those who do make it here? It's a very skewed form of fairness that says we ought. As for jumping a queue of rightful applicants - it's awfully hard to apply for asylum in Australia from Afghanistan, when we don't have a consulate there. It's a non-argument.

With these arguments so easily dismissed, how can so many people persist in the belief that these people should be treated so badly? I think the answer has to be the underlying and rarely spoken one: that a significant number of Australians fear that allowing thousands of these people in will badly affect Australia's culture.

One can see traces of this attitute in the reporting. Often it will be stressed that these asylum seekers are Muslim, or are from the middle-East. How relevent is this to their plight? Similar attitudes are not expressed towards people of European or North American origin. The media has had fun for the last fifteen years painting a very nasty and brutish picture of the Middle-Eastern states and their people. I guess it is not suprising that this is also reflected in the views of many Australians.

Personally I find it a very ugly side to what is otherwise a mostly accepting and friendly society. Those people on that boat are just that: people. They've been through much worse than what most Australians will ever have to endure. We are a rich country with a strong tradition of immigration. Why can't we accept them, and dismantle the oppressive detention camp system while we're at it? Further, to address issues of fairness, we should be setting a good example for other rich countries to follow, so that they too can play their part in reducing human misery (of course many countries already are doing this.)

The current situation I find disgusting, and makes me ashamed to be Australian.



An Oz - US comparison. (4.00 / 1) (#28)
by Apuleius on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 03:14:20 AM EST

Australia has a generous welfare state. America doesn't. As a result, Australians have a very negative view of immigration, while Americans, relatively speaking, don't. If this situation had happened offshore the US, these refugees would be getting processed right now, and it would not make the front page of the news. The Norweigian ship would be back on course already, not left holding the bag.


There is a time and a place for everything, and it's called college. (The South Park chef)
A lot of rhetoric, but.... (none / 0) (#30)
by SvnLyrBrto on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 03:43:30 AM EST

It all boils down to one, simple, question:

Does a sovereign nation have the right to decide who may or may not immigrate?

Yes, or no?

Well???


On a side note, it's amusing to see this happening to someone else for a change. As often as certian people like to bash the US on the way we handle our own illegal immigrant problem.... I wonder if they'll be just a little less self-rightous now.


cya,
john

Imagine all the people...

Not just one question (none / 0) (#36)
by ajf on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 06:53:52 AM EST

There are several questions besides the one you raise. Yours isn't even the most important. For starters:

  • Does a nation have the right to refuse entry to asylum seekers?
  • Does a nation have the right to send its military onto a ship which is asking for its assistance?
  • Does Australia have a responsibility to accept these asylum seekers?
  • Does Australia have a responsibility to aid a ship when its captain has been coerced by threats of suicide to change his course by people he was legally obliged to rescue?


"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
4 answers (none / 0) (#37)
by wiredog on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 10:18:10 AM EST

  • Yes
  • Yes, if the ship is in that nations waters. If the ship is in international waters, it's piracy.
  • No
  • Yes, and they did send doctors and supplies.


If there's a choice between performance and ease of use, Linux will go for performance every time. -- Jerry Pournelle
[ Parent ]
hmmm (none / 0) (#40)
by ajf on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 12:28:39 PM EST

UNHCR's web site says: "The established international practice is that persons rescued at sea should be disembarked at the next port of call, where they should always be admitted, at least on a temporary basis, pending resettlement."

It would seem that the UNHCR believes that Australia should have allowed the refugees to enter.



"I have no idea if it is true or not, but given what you read on the Web, it seems to be a valid concern." -jjayson
[ Parent ]
Morality and historical accident (none / 0) (#39)
by leopardi on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 11:48:57 AM EST

Possibly Australia would behave differently if it had a land border rather than being surrounded by sea and far away from any other countries except Indonesia, PNG and now East Timor.

Unfortunately, we still live in an age of nation states. Had a similar scenario occured 500 years ago, we would have been dealing with city states, principalities or empires, depending on where you were on earth. Imagine if there was a border around every island on earth, around every city, every village, every dwelling. This is not unthinkable. There are places on earth right now with tanks surrounding villages surrounding settlements.

Now imagine the rest of the present, where large nation states cannot control internal migration without supressing their own populations, where rural-urban migration within nations means that cities become shanty towns.

So, what am I saying? Borders and national sovereignty are social conventions arrived at by historical accident and are not the ideal means to control migration, as much as it needs to be controlled. They cause too much grief.

And yet, historically, the main way internal borders were abolished was through war or the threat of invasion. Think of the American war of independence, or even the founding of the Commonwealth of Australia.

So, finally, we are left with a real human situation and moral choices. To my mind, the moral weight of human suffering outweighs the moral weight of national sovereignty. Yes, this imposes a burden on "target" nations, and yes, people smuggling is immoral. But we must find other ways to address this burden than leaving a group of people stranded on a ship.

Big Bad Australia: Here We Go... (1.50 / 2) (#42)
by Talez on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 01:24:03 PM EST

I live in Perth, Western Australia. It seems like these days I can't pick up a newspaper or watch the news without reading about how another boatload of "refugees" has been spotted in Australian waters.

Australia is the innocent victim among all the international community bullshit that seems to be going on at the moment.

For the uninformed, here's a couple of facts that some press neglect to mention:

* The refugees actually don't touch mainland Australia. They touch Christmas Island, an Australian territory that lies IIRC about 200km south of Indonesia. This territory is much, much, MUCH closer to Indonesia than Australia.

* The refugees refused to be taken back to Indonesia. Flat out. IIRC, the Captain of the Tampa said that they were quite intimidating. These people dont seem like real refugees IMHO

* The port at Christmas Island is *NOT* equipped to handle a ship like the Tampa. The closest port to which the Tampa can actually berth safely is *gasp*suprise*shock* Indonesia. Not like the indonesian government cares... the officials there get paid big money by people-smugglers to look the other way.

* Illegal immigrants pay big money to get overland to Indonesia which is a staging gateway to get to Australia. We aren't the first place along the way where people get dropped off, we are *SPECIFICALLY* targeted. We are an attractive place because we're such poor naive saps, we accept these people by the bucketload. These "refugees" could apply for asylum in any place along the way, yet they come many thousands of miles to get to Australia.

* We feed, clothe, provide medical assistance to the sick, we provide legal assistance so that they can have the right to a fair and just assesment on their "refugee" status. Because we keep them segregated from the regular population, usually for security reasons, we get a riots and revolts for our troubles. Also, let's not lose the plot, these people *are* here in our country illegally.

You people have no idea what it is like in Australia at the present moment. We have heart wrenching stories of immediate family being broken up because of immigration policies. We have to endure boatload after boatload of "refugees" every other week. We are a country of 20 million people. Not 500 million people. The millions of dollars being spent on all these "refugees" could be better spent fixing our own problems.

We aren't the closest capable port, they arent our responsibility. Get off our backs. Try annoying the Indonesians for a change. The corruption amongst officials there is the biggest reason for all this immigration BS.

Talez

Si in Googlis non est, ergo non est
What it is like in Australia? (5.00 / 2) (#43)
by leopardi on Sun Sep 02, 2001 at 03:54:45 AM EST

> You people have no idea what it is like in Australia at the present moment.

I have an idea. I live in Australia, I'm ashamed to say. I'm also ashamed of today's editorial in the Sun Herald.

This affair has made me tired of all the bleating about how bad the immigration situation is in Australia, about how refugees are really fakers, etc. etc.

Australia has diversity. There are some suburbs in some of our cities with poverty, crime, gang and drug problems. And some debate about the "ethnic" connections of these problems. This is nothing new. Look at issues of The Bulletin form the 1890s and you will see rampant stereotyping.

Yet, generally, the standard of living in Australia is high. Australians are reasonably healthy, well fed, well educated and wealthy compared to people living in many other parts of the world. Not all our economic and social indicators are fanatastic, but they are quite high. See http://www.oecd.org and look at publications on health status and GDP per capita.

Maybe, Talez, you have lived in Rwanda or nearby. I myself cannot possibly imagine what conditions were like for the refugees there, but I do know that there were people there who called refugees fakers. And there were some fakers there, amongst all the genuine refugees. But this did not and does not justify another country closing its borders.

As I said in my posting, if Australia had had a land border, perhaps things would have been different. Maybe we would have put up a barbed wire fence, a wall, ... or just maybe we would learn about international cooperation and individual human cooperation. At the very least, we could have learnt just how complex it really is to deal with global migration and displaced people.

[ Parent ]

Of course (none / 0) (#45)
by camadas on Sun Sep 02, 2001 at 01:46:36 PM EST

«We are a country of 20 million people. Not 500 million people.»

And you are also a small, poor country.
Does the fact of 2 australians were arrested by the taliban regime has anything to do with this ?
Because if it has, your country position will be even more criticable (to the outside eyes, anyway).


[ Parent ]
Norwegian/Australian refugee conflict | 46 comments (46 topical, 0 editorial, 0 hidden)
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