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Grown up thinking about asylum seeker drownings


Find below a truly great comment by Neil James  on this post at New Matilda I hope that the author does not mind but I was so impressed by his succinct argument that I thought it would be good to share it with the reader’s of the Sandpit


The Kaniva Incident

There are surely some questionable assumptions and conceptual mistakes underlying this article.

Asylum and refugee matters remain first and foremost strategic policy issues. They comprise just one part of Australia’s broader and longer-term strategic relationships with neighbouring countries and our broader region collectively. We also need to avoid them becoming a defining or persistent problem in the overall complexity of these strategic relationships.

The potential for regional neighbours to coerce Australia strategically by facilitating illegal immigration or extra-regional refugee flows into Australia must also be avoided. Or indeed the situation whereby Australia has to bribe some countries to reciprocate their wider obligations as friendly neighbours or meet their asylum responsibilities under customary international law.

Day-to-day public discussion of refugee and asylum-seeker matters in Australia is greatly hampered by incorrect assumptions that ignore these foreign and strategic policy implications. Debate is instead dominated by Australia-centric perspectives focused on domestic attitudes and party politics, community compassion, Australian law, or human rights matters only as they apply within Australia.

Most public and party-political argument has consequently tended to revolve ineffectively around the recurrent symptoms of the dilemmas involved, rather than seriously examine or fix their actual strategic, legal and moral causes.

It is simplistic to assume that Australia can just ignore Indonesian sovereignty – or our complex wider relationships with that country – by somehow just shouldering Indonesia aside in its own territorial and geographic waters or in Indonesia’s internationally designated zone of search & rescue responsibility.

Tragic though the circumstances undoubtedly are, the last boat to sink was an Indonesian one, crewed by Indonesians, owned and directed by Indonesian criminals and had illegally left an Indonesian port after bribing corrupt Indonesian officials. It sank 50 metres (yes metres) off an Indonesian beach in Java.

As the article correctly notes, the delays and evasions of responsibility were wholly Indonesian not Australian. They could have done more but apparently chose not to. Their supposed total incapacity to help is simply not true and is no excuse anyway. After all, after so many tragedies just off Indonesia’s coast why cannot they improve their capacity in even the most basic ways?

What we are actually seeing in most cases is deliberate policy choices by Indonesia. Or an unwillingness to tackle the mix of corruption, national embarrassment, anti-Australian racism and political inertia involved. It is not just an incapacity matter even if that was an acceptable excuse which it is not.

Australians concerned over this matter need to hold Indonesia to account, rather than just Australia. They should begin by not blithely accepting every Indonesian official or other prevarication and excuse at face value – just as they would if such ridiculous statements were made by an Australian official. The near-total loss of objectivity in Australia about even the most specious Indonesian claims is a major part of the problem.

Australia has international search & rescue responsibilities for some ten per cent of the Earth’s surface. NZ has another eight per cent. Indonesia’s zone is much, much smaller and its navy actually has more ships. While there are undoubtedly some economic disparity factors involved, the overall problem of Indonesian unwillingness or “incapacity” will never be solved – and people will continue to drown – while Indonesia is never held to account for not meeting its internationally agreed search & rescue responsibilities. Just like every other country.

Now if only our over emotional friends from the left could truly absorb the  content of this argument they might just stop talking rot and understand the true nature of the problem instead of trying to guilt trip every grown up in the country when an asylum seeker drowns.

Cheers Comrades




  1. Ray Dixon says:

    Iain, it’s not that long ago you were claiming the Labor govt had ‘blood on their hands’ whenever a boat sank. Now that the Coalition is in govt (and now the boats are still coming – funny about that!) you say it’s all Indonesia’s responsibility? Givemeabreak Iain and stop playing politics over boat people.

    Btw, my own take on the deaths @ sea is that it comes with the territory of being an asylum seeker who is prepared to take the risk. In other words, the main person responsible is the one who gets on the boat.

  2. Iain Hall says:

    My argument for the ALP being culpable for both the flood of unauthorised migrants and the many drownings is all based upon the simple fact that they tried to “fix” that which was not broken. Then to ad insult to injury they kept denying that what they had done was the reason for many more people succumbing to the charms of the people smugglers.

    That said when people get into trouble on an Indonesian boat in Indonesian waters and the wreckage and bodies wash up on an Indonesian beach how is it our responsibility? That is the point that Neil James makes with great thoroughness.

  3. The issue is that people start to confuse categories. Here there are many. One it is moral, another geo-political, another is linked to international law and another is linked to the concept of nation.

    Now, nobody is happy that people die. Yet some people and politicians assume that they have a greater moral standard than others whom may be concerned of the geo-political, national, and international law aspects, and not only about empathy. By the way if empathy had saved lives we would not be here discussing about this.

    Here the issue with certain political left (and I have to admit also many scholars dealing with this issue ): they imply that whom try to find a rational non- utopic solution to a very problematic issue is a person without empathy.

    The reality is that until we do not leave the emotions out from the discussion (and this does not mean not to have empathy) we will never find a real solution and consequently we will never save very few life. Emotions and moral finger pointing will not save a single life. In case, actually, will help death to take even more.

    Second point from an anthropologist: I have been confirmed from my informants that these death-trips that some “refugees” decide to embark upon through criminal organisations have a cost of about $15000 per adult and $8000 per child. To give you an idea in Pakistan $150000 is the value of a farm, with animals and all the rest. Now many are also family of 5-6 members (do your calculations here).

    Hence we can say that the people whom embark in this so dangerous (and they know that it is dangerous) trip are 1) supper reich or alternatively 2) totally in debt to criminal organisations of different nature. Indeed those in the refugee camps (for instance in Bangladesh) tends to apply through the ordinary “legal” channels.

    The question is: why do they decide to come to Australia when with half of the price they can stay in Indonesia (corruption can buy you a permanent recency for very little), Malaysia, do easily to China (again about corruption) and maybe use the left $10000 or more to start a business there. Well I have received some interesting answers. I share one: they do not decide their destinations but the criminal organisations do so… Are this criminal organisations sending high number of refugees to Australia under an agreement with a state (secret services or whatever)?, are they doing so for other reasons? Well we do not know, or whom knows does not want to tell us.

  4. Ray Dixon says:

    they (Labor) tried to “fix” that which was not broken

    Howard’s Pacific solution was certainly “broken”, Iain – witness the thousands that were traumatised for effectively being jailed on Nauru for years before they were eventually accepted as genuine refugees. Something had to be done. Granted, Labor couldn’t solve the problem but then again, your lot (the Coalition of no hope) doesn’t seem to have a clue either. How are they going so far?

    And I agree that those bodies are not our responsibility but my point was under Labor you would have pointed the finger at them.

  5. Ray Dixon says:

    Are this criminal organisations sending high number of refugees to Australia under an agreement with a state (secret services or whatever)?

    Interesting theory “Dr” Marranci. It just doesn’t make any sense.

  6. Iain Hall says:

    Gabriele Marranci is an academic who teaches anthropology with a focus on Islam in Sydney and he has a PHD so there is no need to question the honorific to which he is full entitled to use.

  7. Ray Dixon says:

    Iain, I will mock anyone who advances far out and unfounded theories like the good “Doctor”.

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