Written by U Ne Oo on 2002-01-10
NB: Free to redistribute and reprint this Internet discussion as it is; orÂ may use the contents with or without quoting the author. Background materials may be found on netipr website.-- U Ne Oo.
Finally, the article in Sydney Morning Herald on 11 November 2001 shed some light on the extent to which Australian government has manipulated on the claims of an Iraqi asylum-seekers had thrown babies overboard. Followings are the main points:
- At the 4 days stand-off between the Royal Australian Navy, the asylum-seekers' boat was in severe distress and had faced a near capsize situation several times. The asylum-seekers' boat finally sunk on 7-October-2001;
- During the stand-off, the Royal Australian Navy had fired 4 warning shots (artillery ) which was followed by several bursts of automatic gunfires to frighten the asylum-seekers' boat to turn back;
- There is no evidence of all asylum-seekers on-board the boat were equipped with life-jackets. Some, if not all, life-jackets were to have been issued by the Royal Australian Navy;
- There has been no photographic evidence or witnesses on the claims of children were being thrown overboard by asylum-seekers 'specifically' to be rescued by the Royal Australian Navy. There may have been instances of Iraqi asylum-seeker(s) with their children abandoning the boat on 5-October-2001;
- The Australian government had blocked journalists access to the Navy during the six weeks of the election campaign. This is the most compelling evidence of the government had fabricated the information and manipulated politically over the incident.
One can appreciate the dangerous situation faced by the Iraqi asylum seekers just by looking at the size of boats. These are wooden boats with no more than 20-25 meters (50-60 ft) long, usually fitted with single-engined propellers. These boats are commonly used in Asia and the Pacific for villagers to commute through inland waterways or to travel around coastline. They are not designed for use in the open sea or to carry large numbers of people. In an open sea, such a small vessel could easily get into distress even by the ripples produced by movement of large freighters. In the case of the boat in question, it is the Royal Australian Navy frigate harassing the boat to turn its course. The level of distress to that boat can therefore be most frightening. We can give credence to the Iraqi boat-people's statement (see SMH article on 11-Nov-2001) that their boat was about to be capsized on several occasion in its encounter with Royal Australian Navy.Why not Having a Common Sense ?
The investigative journalists of SMH are even more critical that the government cannot produce any evidence video/photograph or witness on which the babies were 'actually thrown' overboard by adults. To my view, it is totally understandable -- even the government could produce photo/video evidence -- if one think with common-sense about a procedure by which a person may abandon a sinking vessel together with his/her children). When leaving a sinking vessel, one must always try to swim away to escape the swirl. If the person has a child, he/she would have to throw the child first before himself/herself jumping into water to chase that child afterwards. If you have two children, you would certainly have no choice- just throw those little ones first. When the explanation over this incident can be THAT simple, why Australian politicians (or newspaper editors) are so blind to see this fact ? The answer simply is because of the Australian Strain of Racism.
Media Bullying and Public Apathy
I am not entirely surprised that the Australian Immigration Minister, knowing what he is, has been telling the media on 7 October 2001 that the Iraqi boat people thrown their children overboard. We neither can blame the newspapers, for being sensational at all time [the Adelaide's Advertiser is one of the worst among] for reporting this incident with huge headlines. However, what have me amazed (rather, alarmed) was that this un-substantiated and sensational claim over the boat-people, which subsequently picked by politicians, to become a 'viable' political issues within Australia.
As noted above, whilst the possible explanation for 'baby throwing incident' can be so simple, why didn't any newspapers editors or politicians to come up and diffuse the situation. Are these newspaper editors or Australian politicians lacked the necessary intellect to think rationally ? Certainly not! The Australians are islanders who do in one way or others have knowledge of sea and can easily comprehend the predicament of the boat-people on that ship. Then why don't we see public objection about the government dehumanizing of boat-people ? Or why any Australian politicians - except Senator Bob Brown of Tasmania this issue ?
This phenomenon can be comprehend by looking at analogy of the 'primary school children'. The incident is like a group of schoolyard bullies taunting a lame-and-dumb schoolboy, which has been watched over by the rest of his classmates. These 220 Iraqi boat-people, of course, in no way be able to rebut abut what the Australian politicians have said about them. But the Australian public tolerating -- in certain quarters with some satisfaction -- about government and media vilifying the boat-people is definitely not of the trademarks of a "civilized society".Gossip-Rumour Culture in Politics
Most disgraceful aspect over this incident, however, is the Prime Minister as well as Labour Opposition leader jumped into 'refugee-bashing' band wagon without checking the source or authenticity. The Immigration Minister has thrown a sensational claim about boat-people. The Prime Minister seconded that claim without checking. According to SMH, "Howard, on the Alan Jones radio show next day, said:"Quite frankly, Alan, I don't want in this country people who are prepared, if those reports are true, to throw their own children overboard. And that kind of emotional blackmail is very distressing." Whether the Prime Minister was tempted to ferment prejudice over these Iraqi boat-people is not in doubt. However, I'll be much more concerned about the gossip-rumor culture that has come into the Australian politics.
By gossip-rumor culture I mean not only of a person saying bad things about the others from behind. I would also mean that one person try to socialize the other person by agreeing without checking the contents. Mass media, of course, often use this method of propagating rumors as a tool to generate public opinion. Ordinary people, too, may normally do this for socializing on trivial matters.
However, making gossip and propagating rumors should be limited to ordinary people or mass media. It is astounding however that such gossip-rumors have been propagated out of the Highest public office in Australia. Sure, the 220 Iraqis cannot put a complaint, but it is unprofessional and dangerous to do gossip and rumor propagating.Racism against Refugee Interests
Over last few years, there have been increase in restriction of rights of refugees in Australia. Recent government's Border Protection legislation has been only one of the examples. The Australian government does racist scapegoating of boat-people as a precursor to further restrict the rights of refugees. Australia is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to Status of Refugees. But the Australian Constitution does not include the Bill of Rights or incorporate some other UN instruments that could protect the rights of refugees from being curtailed by the government legislative process. The rationale has been that the refugee advocates have to come long ways doing their work, firstly repelling the government's racist attacks against refugees.
Racism or racist attack against a minority group constitute violation of fundamental human rights. Discriminatory laws or practices targeted against any minority groups, regardless of sanctioned by democratically elected parliament, also constitute the violation of human rights. As such, the international community must condemn against degrading and de-humanising treatment of asylum seekers by the Australian politicians.
Actions: Write to Hon. John Howard, Prime Minister of Australia, The Parliament House, Canberra ACT 2600, AUSTRALIA. Facsimile:(+612) 6273-4100/6273-4112. Ask him why he believes or has right to believe the story of Iraqi boat-people throw their babies overboard. or ask does he believes any of Australian politicians has a higher family value than that of Iraqi asylum-seekers jumped into ocean with their children.