Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Something to think about as the fortunate among us tuck into festive season dinners and open presents

The Guardian 11 December 2014:

For all the slogans and military operations, over 54,000 people have boarded boats across the Indian Ocean this year, with around 20,000 in just the two months of October and November. As much as Morrison may gloat, the boats haven’t really stopped.

The point you won’t see on any media release or hear at a doorstop press conference is this: even if people haven’t drowned on the way to Australia, they’ve still drowned. Because people fleeing countries in the region are still getting on boats……

According to the UNHCR report on Irregular Maritime Movements in South-East Asia, over 50,000 people set sail just from the Bay of Bengal area in January-November 2014. The smugglers operating in the region move people who are trafficked as well as those paying for passage outside of legal migration channels. The latter includes people such as ethnic Rohingya who do not have any nationality (and therefore no official travel documentation) and have a long history of persecution and discrimination by the Burmese government.

The UNHCR estimates that around 21,000 people have departed from the Bangladesh-Burmese maritime border in the two months of October and November 2014. About 10% were women, and around one-third of arrivals interviewed by UNHCR in Thailand and Malaysia were minors. The numbers for October 2014 are a marked increase (37%) from the year before. 

And not all the deaths at sea are merely from drowning, according to the report:
“One in every three interviewees said at least one other passenger on their boat died en route; one in every 10 said 10 or more people died on board. Deaths were attributed to severe beatings by the crew, lack of food and water, illness, and heat.”

Globally, around 350,000 people have risked it all by taking a boat this year. On 10-11 December 2014, UNHCR is hosting a meeting looking specifically at protection at sea. The non-governmental organisations taking part have recommended, among other things, that to implement effective protection and ensure safety at sea, it is vital to “address ‘route causes’ and ‘root causes’ of forced and dangerous migration”. 

UNHCR notes that these reasons for irregular movement include: conflict and war, protracted refugee situations, statelessness, the absence or inadequacy of protection systems, family separation, poverty and economic inequality.

What is notably absent from all the recommendations to “stop the boats” from these experts is deterrence, which in Morrison’s parlance is also known as “taking the sugar off the table”. This was of course the honourable minister’s reasoning last month for reducing the number of refugees Australia would resettle from Indonesia and banning those who registered with UNHCR in Indonesia after 1 July 2014 from ever getting to Australia.

Sweet though that poison may be (and poisonous is certainly how one can characterise the way Australia treats those who come across the sea), no refugee is paying a people smuggler for any sort of benefit other than getting the hell out of the hell they were in. 
At the opening of the UNHCR meeting yesterday, the High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres said, “You can’t stop a person who is fleeing for their life by deterrence, without escalating the dangers even more”…..

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