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  • prequel

    "Top blog/Renato Obeid's World/Today's pick: This rambling weblog is worth reading not so much for its satirical posts but more for its insight into the minutiae of life in Lebanon, including the etiquette of road accidents and how to hire a taxi.” -Jane Perrone, The Guardian

    Thursday, August 30, 2001  
    Thursday 30th August 2001

    The front page headline of the Sydney Morning herald – “Troops told ‘whatever it takes’”.
    Last Sunday a Norwegian registered freighter rescued some 438 mainly Afghan and Iraqi asylum seekers after the boat carrying them to Australia from Indonesia ran into trouble just outside Australian waters.
    Pandering to the increasingly and alarmingly right-wing, racist, fascistic and xenophobic Australian electorate the Australian government defied international conventions governing assistance to people in trouble at sea (to which they are signatories to) and refused them permission to dock at nearest landfall which was Christmas Island – some 1700 kilometres off mainland Australia and merely a few miles away from where the ship ran into trouble.
    A standoff ensued over the next few days with the Norwegian and Indonesian governments refusing to receive the asylum seekers.
    Finally, the captain of the vessel, under apparent pressure from some of the refuges who had threatened to jump overboard and taking into consideration that there were women (some of them pregnant), children and some people in need of medical assistance aboard, proceeded towards Christmas Island.
    In an extraordinary and heavy-handed move the Australian government sent in 50 SAS commandos who took charge of the freighter.
    Defence sources euphemistically said that the troops had the capability to steer the ship into international waters should the captain refuse.
    The ship moved several kilometres yesterday but remained in Australian waters and that is still the situation as of now.
    Understandably, all hell has broken loose internationally with an international incident ensuing – Norway has reported Australia to the United Nations, the Norwegian foreign minister has described the actions as “unacceptable and inhumane” but the most appropriate comment in my opinion came from a spokesman for the ships owners who said “I would not say anything if the ship was in the vicinity of a banana republic but this is supposed to be a civilized country”
    Hmm, yes – the important thing is that we don’t overreact here and send in the army or anything.
    Christmas Island is Australia’s outermost territory and the port of arrival for scores of refuges who make similar journeys.
    I won't make much comment about this because the developments speak volumes for themselves.
    Suffice to say that this is every redneck hick’s fantasy come true!
    Australian public opinion is overwhelmingly in favour of this with public opinion polls registering approval rates in the nineties.
    Australia’s two main political parties (if you can actually call them two parties in this duopoly) have come out in favour of this – surprisingly the opposition Labour Party, which is traditionally the humane worldly party in Australian politics but has since abdicated that, has also sided with the government.
    A cartoon in yesterday (Wednesdays) Sydney Morning Herald shows the MS Tampa (which is the name of the freighter) shows the captain at the bow of the ship addressing the refuges “I’m afraid we have to turn about or we’ll be caught in the eye of a federal election campaign’.
    Which is exactly what this is all about – I’m surprised that those SAS commandos aren’t issuing how-to-vote cards whilst they’re at it.
    Moreover, the captain of the Tampa who was in fact initially responding to a REQUEST BY AUSTRALIAN AUTHORITIES TO COME AND RESCUE A SHIP IN DISTRESS (the ship carrying the refuges from Indonesia which sank) has assessed and deemed his vessel to be unfit to sail into international waters – particularly with 438 passengers on-board which its unfit and not built to cater for!
    Christmas Island leaders (who represent a population that is 60% ethnic Chinese, 25% Malay and 15% European) have sent a message to the Tampa’s crew and “passengers” saying that Christmas Islands elected representatives were “ashamed of the actions of the Prime Minister of our country”.
    International press reaction to the situation is pretty much summed up by the German state broadcaster Deutsche Welle “Australia, a country built on immigration, continues to refuse entry to refuges saying it was sending a strong message to future asylum seekers”.

    12:00 am

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