Although it is a wonderful testament to human resilience and assistance to our fellows, that survivors from the sunken boat off East Java continue to be found and rescued, the loss of so many lives in this disaster points to inhuman law-making and failures of human hospitality and generosity.
Press reports say that the boat was carrying more than 200 people when it went down off the coast of Indonesia on Saturday, being massively overcrowded. It is reported that the passengers were of different nationalities – Iranian, Iraqi, Afghan – trying to reach Australia to seek asylum there.
Whilst several of the media reports highlight the ‘inhumanity’ of the people smugglers who arranged this doomed voyage, most of the blame for these tragedies must lie squarely with governments who have made it so difficult, over the years, for individuals to seek political asylum in their countries.
These difficulties stem from the range of measures hostile to would-be refugees, policies of ‘deterrence’, from the indefinite detention of asylum claimants on their arrival, to the withdrawal of even minimal welfare benefits and access to healthcare in the host countries; from sanctions for aircraft and boat operators who bring people in without the correct visas or paperwork, to the criminalisation of asylum-seekers for many different offences stemming from their situation, such as entering on a false passport, or working illegally to manage a hand-to-mouth existence.
Thanks to policies of deterrence, Europe is making a mockery of the right that States agreed to in the Universal Declaration, at article 14, the right to seek asylum, and has consequently become known as “fortress Europe”.
The organisation, ‘United Against Racism’, documents deaths resulting from attempts to reach fortress Europe or otherwise due to European immigration policy. The list of 15551 individuals, which can be downloaded here, reads, to me, like those long columns of named casualties and missing-in-action that appeared daily in the British newspapers during the second world war, often in column-space alongside longer obituaries of celebrities and politicians. There is certainly no glory for those who die as a result of the racism and inhumanity of deterrent immigration policies, perhaps the best we can hope for is that they are far from forgotten and that their desperate deaths spur all of us on to fight for freedom of movement and the equal rights of all people to seek safety and prosperity.