Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Turn back the boats!!

“Turn back the boats!! Stop the boats!!” These shrill statements relate to the divisive policies proposed by Australian conservative political parties to stop so called “illegal” immigrants from arriving in Australia by sea in small fishing boats. This is the mantra repeated endlessly by every form of media. It is a simplistic and mischievous refrain – implying that the whole “illegal” immigration problem is easily solved. This is wrong, very misleading and is just political humbug – all interested parties are fully aware of this.

Furthermore turning the boats back means what, exactly? Think about it. Setting aside important international political and moral issues the safety concerns and logistics of implementing such a policy are worthy of some consideration. Turning back the boats, presumably, means they would be either towed or escorted back to some port in Indonesia.  The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has a limited number of patrol boats – are these to be used to either tow or escort slow moving wooden fishing boats, sometimes hundreds of nautical miles back to where they came from, rather than performing their official purpose of protecting Australia? Some of these “turn back” journeys could take days! Also many of the wooden boats involved are not really seaworthy and would not survive being towed. The sea is a dangerous environment and changes in sea conditions – swell, wind and waves - often occur very quickly.  Would this necessitate the RAN rescuing the “illegals”? I believe that this would then mean that the “illegals” have achieved their aim – they would technically be on Australian “territory” – an Australian Government vessel!! And then what? Unless of course the conservative side of Australian politics try to “excise” RAN vessels from Australia thus rendering them and their Australian crews stateless.

In any event how many RAN patrol boats would be involved in this fruitless exercise? And what is to prevent these “illegals” from immediately trying again and recommencing their journey to Australia? This would initiate and perpetuate an apparently endless “loop” with more and more boats and “illegals” involved. Make no mistake “where there is a will there is a way” and the number of fearful, determined people trying to escape persecution or trying to find a better place to live will eventually overwhelm such a sterile and limiting policy. They will ultimately find their way to Australia – somehow.   

It won’t work – “turning back the boats” is not an option. Not only does the RAN not have the physical capacity to carry out any such instruction, doing so is inhumane and Australia, possibly, would be in breach of many of the treaties it has signed relating to safety at sea, refugees and human rights.

Remember the thousands of South Vietnamese who arrived, by boat, in Australia in the 1960’s after the end of the Vietnam war? They are now proud Australians and a vibrant element in the fabric of this nation. Certainly there would need to be some security checks but it would be far better to allow these unfortunate “illegals” into Australia where they will eventually become productive and hard-working citizens. It would certainly be less costly and more beneficial to the national economy than housing them for years in prison like so called “off-shore” locations (i.e. Pacific Islands).

The only way to “stop the boats” in the long term would be to provide such a safe environment in the “illegals” home country that they would not need to consider moving. This is not going to happen any time soon, so these unfortunate people will continue to attempt the dangerous journey to find a safe haven – Australia.

For God’s sake let us show some generosity of spirit and welcome them – let them come!

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