Tampa 2005: Four years on, and still 'illegal'?
It can't be more blatant. The very United Nations Convention for the Status of Refugees is the product of the shame that engulfed post-war Europe after the smoke and cordite smell had diminished in the late 1940's. The shame about letting down the desparate boatpeople, the passengers of the Struma, the St Louis, the Patria and the Exodus.
Boats, filled with Jewish refugees fleeing Adolf Hitler. And in an act with criminal intent, John Winston Howard and his ministers and MP's, greedy for another term of government, called the unannounced arrival of refugees fleeing the Taliban and Saddam Hussein 'illegal'.
It can't be more blatant. And we will remember.
Below are some readings on the occasion of the fourth anniversary of the MV Tampa stand-off off the coast of Christmas Island. The day that captain Arne Rinnan picked up the 433 refugees from the Palapa, 26 August, has become known as Tampa Day.
Tampa Anniversary Still Causing Damage 4 Years On
Senator Andrew Bartlett
Democrats Deputy Leader, Andrew Bartlett, says the fourth anniversary of the rescue of 433 asylum seekers by the MV Tampa is a reminder that major damage is still being caused as a result of the Governments response to the incident.
Senator Bartlett, who was the first person to raise concerns in the Senate about the Tampa incident, said there is a direct link between the brutal and irrational way the Howard Government reacted to the Tampa and the current enormous mess in the administration of our Immigration Department.
The legacy of the Tampa is far more than just unnecessary suffering caused to hundreds of refugees, many of whom are still waiting to be reunited with their spouses and children.
The Tampa incident led to actions that perverted the law, wasted billions of dollars, destroyed families and lives, corrupted our foreign policy in the Pacific and entrenched the incompetent and uncaring culture in the Immigration Department which the Government is now pretending to fix.
The Tampa incident was used to manufacture the political grounds for gaining the Labor Partys support for forcing a package of six pieces of legislation though the Senate which dramatically amended the entire Migration Act, giving immense power to bureaucrats, further restricted judicial and independent oversight and in many cases enabled Commonwealth officers to act completely outside any legal constraints.
Until the Migration Act is reformed and the Government adopts a policy based on reality rather than myth-making and lies, the operation and administration of our countrys migration system will remain severely dysfunctional. You cannot change the culture of the Department whilst the law and policy remains the same. An essential part of repairing the culture is to restore the checks and balances taken out of the law by the Liberal and Labor parties in 2001.
The Tampa incident also gave birth to the so-called Pacific Solution, which has been shown to be grotesquely unjust, financially extravagant and continues to inflict mental torture on twenty-eight asylum seekers still imprisoned on Nauru. The current Minister continues to turn her face away from the massive suffering she is responsible for, never even bothering to visit Nauru and continuing to maintain the fiction that it has nothing to do with Australia.
Behind bars and billed for the privilege
TOMORROW it will be four years since the Norwegian freighter Tampa diverted to pick up 438 people from a sinking Indonesian fishing boat in the Indian Ocean, in the process changing the course of Australian politics.
John Howard ordered troops to board the Tampa to ensure it did not enter Australian territory, where the passengers had the right to ask to stay as refugees. They were fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq, a party and a dictator so odious that Australia soon would be sending troops to fight them.
But it was not human rights or Australia's obligations under the refugee convention that Howard was weighing up: it was his re-election. All the claims and innuendoes peddled by the Government about Tampa and related matters at the time turned out to be wrong. No children were thrown overboard, there were no terrorists on board and the overwhelming majority established they were genuine refugees in fear of their lives.
But when it came to politics, turning back the Tampa was spectacularly successful. It sealed Howard's re-election 2 1/2 months later, it saw Kim Beazley fail the test of leadership by wilting under the pressure of public opinion, and it cut the ground from under Pauline Hanson, who had advocated exactly such tough action against refugees.
We are living still with the Tampa legacy. The deliberate demonisation of boatpeople as less than human has helped foster the culture of which former federal police commissioner Mick Palmer was so critical in his report on Cornelia Rau. Hundreds of people have been allowed to rot for years in detention camps and many lives have been seriously damaged. This will become clearer as an increasing number of those released sue the Government for damages.
The reforms forced on the Government by Petro Georgiou and other dissident Liberals have taken some of the hard edges off the policy, resulting in the release of children from detention, time limits on decisions and the review of people who have been locked up for more than two years. But the policy continues to be cruelly vindictive against people who have committed no crime. The Migration Act provides that all people in immigration detention, including refugees, are liable for the cost of their imprisonment.
It is the ultimate in user pays, except that the users have no say in their detention and the bills run into hundreds of thousands of dollars. Barrister Julian Burnside has been able to find only two precedents for innocent people being charged for their incarceration: in France under Robespierre, when people suspected of harbouring anti-revolutionary thoughts were liable for the costs of their detention; and in Nazi Germany, when bills were sent to families of Jews, including for the costs of their gassing.
The Immigration Department says 19,350 of these bills have been sent out in the past four years. Most go to those about to leave Australia after their applications to stay have been rejected. The only effect of this is to stop people re-entering Australia without clearing their debt.
Apart from that, the policy is applied haphazardly. People given refugee visas generally do not receive bills, though the Immigration Department makes a point of saying they are liable under the law, and it has knocked back at least one person who asked for the debt to be waived. According to refugee advocates, in recent cases, refugees suing for damages have been threatened with counter-claims for their detention costs.
People allowed to stay as a result of ministerial discretion often receive bills. They include those rejected by the Immigration Department and the Refugee Review Tribunal but who have convinced the minister that they would be in danger if sent back to their home country.
Another category of people who receive bills are those released on bridging visas, mainly on health grounds, while their applications are assessed. Burnside points out that this is "peculiarly harsh", given that the visas are issued on the condition that the holder cannot work or receive welfare benefits.
Victorian Greens spokesman on refugees Peter Job adds that, given the financial position of most former detainees, it is unlikely much money will be recovered from any of the people billed. "What possible effect can this practice have other than further terrifying and demoralising people who have already had their lives blighted by years of soul-destroying detention?" he asks.
The bills often are for $100,000 or more, and sometimes more than $200,000. Charges range all the way up to $491.70 a day, this for the privilege of staying in Baxter in the South Australian desert. The accounts helpfully itemise the costs, including for time spent in solitary confinement: a bargain at only $69.30 a day at Curtin, though this was four years ago and inflation no doubt has taken its toll.
It all adds up to a cruel joke: the longer people's cases are delayed because of the extraordinarily cumbersome processes of the immigration bureaucracy, the higher the bill. Some people have successfully applied to have fees waived. Others are paying them off and still others are refusing to pay, with the result that the Government denies them re-entry to Australia if they travel overseas and refuses permanent residence to those on temporary visas.
The uniquely harsh policies of detention billing and indefinite mandatory detention date back to the Keating government. But their continued application compounds the stain left by Howard's cynical exploitation of the Tampa issue. Whatever else his legacy, this is an issue on which history may judge him harshly.
4,000 Islands excised
Senators cower to John Howard's Orwellian island excision
Project SafeCom Inc.
"All Liberal and National party coalition Senators who supported the abhorring migration regulations' change supporting the prime minister's "thousand island dressing" stand condemned and will be remembered in Australia's history as belonging to John Howard's Orwellian army, distorting the international rights of boatpeople," WA human rights lobby group Project SafeCom said this morning, after the motion by Senator Andrew Bartlett to disallow the excision of thousands of islands from the migration act was defeated.
"John Howard's shameful lies about the status of refugees are once more entrenched in Australian society. Instead of correcting the prime minister's power-hungry manipulation, who with his coalition MP's, greedy to win power at the 2001 election, falsely told electors that it's "illegal" to come to Australia unannounced by boat to claim asylum, and that Australia would be flooded by those illegals who would steal Australian jobs and who may be terrorists, the coalition Senators have once more shown that they have sacrificed the notion that the Senate is an esteemed House of Review, trading that notion in with ganging up with the power-hungry, and with the PM, who was not afraid to use con-man methods to win the 2001 election over refugees," said spokesman Jack H Smit.
"In two weeks time, during the weekend rallies following the "Tampa Day" remembrance protests, we commemorate the most shameful time in Australia's history."
"As if the UN Refugee Convention was not drafted to stop countries from repelling boat people, Howard declared a war on refugees during Tampa, and established his War Headquarters in the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet."
"World history will list the scandal of Tampa right next to SIEV X, where 353 asylum seekers drowned en route to Australia, and right next to the STRUMA, the 1942 ship filled with 770 Jews fleeing Hitler, who were all murdered by bombing after Turkish authorities refused it entry, and right next to the St Louis (May 1939), the Patria (November 1940), and the Exodus (July 1947)."
"It was because of those boats, that the UN Convention was drafted. But, regardless of all the Mea Culpas from the Department of Immigration and from the Prime Minister over recent months, the Australian scandal keeps getting legislated."
"As long as this keeps happening, Australia's most powerful lobby and action group will stay alive, vocal and loud, because nothing can save this prime minister from a Royal Commission. Just yesterday more than 8000 signatures, demanding such a Royal Commission into the treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and immigration detainees were sent to the office of the ALP's Tony Burke, who will table them in Parliament next month."
Remembering the Struma
Betar and Tagar UK
The ill-fated Struma stayed largely forgotten this past Wednesday. Few, if any, paused to reflect, pay homage, even note the anniversary of the murder of nearly 800 Jews (103 of them babies and children) on this country's veritable doorstep. The culprits included Arabs, Brits, Turks, and an international community, which quite literally couldn't care less.
Sadly, after 62 years, even the Jewish state doesn't care enough to remember - although that dreadful event remains potently relevant today, illustrating what happens when Jews rely on others' goodwill.
This week in 1942 the Yishuv was shocked. For a fleeting moment, the episode generated a minor stir in America. But war news quickly overshadowed the tragedy, which eventually paled against the enormity of the Holocaust.
The Struma, a six by 16-meter Danube barge of 1830 manufacture, never excited popular imagination like the glamorous Titanic. It was only a pitiful peanut-shell of a boat, packed with 769 refugees bound for Eretz Yisrael, desperately fleeing Hitler's hell.
It wasn't struck suddenly. It was slowly tortured, underscoring with demonic deliberation how superfluous Jews were, just when the final solution's monstrous machinery was switched into high gear. As its 71-day-long melodrama was played out on neutral Istanbul's seafront before an indifferent world, the Struma embodied the total helplessness and humiliation of Jews without power.
The rickety vessel, outfitted with a motor for the first time, departed the Romanian port of Constanza on December 12, 1941. Somehow, after four hair-raising days (instead of the routine 14 hours), the unsteady Struma dragged itself into Istanbul Harbor. It couldn't continue. Its contrived motor had chugged its last. There was no fuel, food, or water.
A handful of passengers held valid entry visas into Eretz Yisrael. All others were illegal. The hope, however, was that once in Turkey, they'd all be allowed to proceed to their destination, since, with Europe in the throes of war, thousands of Jewish immigration certificates remained unutilized.
British mandatory authorities refused unequivocally. The Arabs raged and rallied against giving haven to Jewish refugees. Eager to appease Nazi-sympathizing Arab opinion, Britain chillingly declared that under no circumstance would the Struma's human cargo be unloaded in Palestine.
Moreover, Britain pressured Turkey not to let anyone off the crippled boat.
Obligingly, the Turkish premier argued that "Turkey cannot be expected to serve as a refuge or surrogate homeland for people unwanted anywhere else." Thus hundreds were imprisoned in narrow, unventilated confines. The freezing hull below reeked, but there wasn't sufficient room on deck. Refugees took turns to climb up for a breath of fresh air. There was no sleeping space for all, no infirmary, no galley, no bathing facilities, and only one makeshift toilet. Minimal food rations, provided by local Jews, were smuggled aboard after enough Turkish palms were greased.
During the Struma's 35th day in Istanbul, the Wannsee Conference was convened in suburban Berlin to formally authorize "the final solution." Hitler hadn't overlooked this latest demonstration of utter callousness towards hapless Jews.
The British didn't dignify most Jewish entreaties with replies. But on February 15, they announced they'd make an exception in the case of Struma children aged 11 to 16. Wartime rationing was cited as the reason kids younger or older couldn't be admitted too. In the end, no child was freed from the Struma.
Meanwhile Turkey, egged on and emboldened by Britain, threatened to tow the floating death trap beyond its territorial waters. The Jewish Agency warned that "the boat is in a total state of disrepair and without life-saving equipment. Any sea journey for this vessel cannot but end in disaster." Nevertheless, on February 24, the condemned Struma was tugged out to the Black Sea and left paralyzed, without provisions or a drop of fuel, to drift precariously.
The next day an explosion ripped it apart. In minutes it sank with all crew members and over 760 refugees. There was one survivor. The assumption is that the Struma's coup de grace was delivered by a Soviet sub seeking Axis craft.
Today, to most Israelis, "Struma" is a curious street name in a few towns.
Even those who vaguely associate it with a boat rarely know details.
Politically correct authors and trendy pro-Arab filmmakers eschew the subject, preferring postmodern portrayals of Arab terrorists as Zionism's victims. Israeli school children hardly encounter the esoteric story.
Oblivion is perhaps the greatest sin against the Struma but also against ourselves. If we forget the Struma, we forget why this country exists, why we struggle for its survival. We forget the justice of our cause.
Dimmed memory and perverse self-destructive morality hinder our ability to protect ourselves from the offspring and torchbearers of the very Arabs who doomed the Struma. They haven't amended their hostile agenda. We just don't care to be reminded.
Remembering The Ship Of Shame
Remembering The Ship Of Shame When The World Turned Its Back On A Ship Of Jewish Refugees In 1939, Hundreds Were Doomed To Die In Nazi Death Camps, Including A Coconut Creek Man's Younger Brother.
Sun Sentinel, South Florida
They saw the lights of Havana around 2 in the morning, a soft glow along the black horizon to the southwest.
"We're almost there," they told each other.
It began as a whisper among the younger passengers who had spent the night on the deck of the luxury liner St. Louis, 14 days out of Hamburg, Germany. Soon, word spread throughout the ship, and a small congregation gathered beneath the star-splashed sky, some murmuring pray.
The St. Louis carried a mixed cargo of misery and hope on this Saturday morning of May 27, 1939 -- 937 men, women and children fleeing extermination in Nazi death camps.
Thousands of others had made the same voyage before, selling everything to escape the frenzy of anti-Semitism in Hitler's Germany for sanctuary in Cuba.
It was shortly after 4 in the morning when the St. Louis slid past the massive stone walls of El Morro, the fortress that guards the mouth of Havana Harbor. The ship's engines fell silent for the first time in 14 days. Fore and aft, anchor chains rattled as the St. Louis came to rest several hundred yards from the stone docks and weathered buildings of the ancient Caribbean port.
Dawn found many of the men gathered on deck, their shoulders draped in blue and white prayer shawls as they chanted an ancient prayer of deliverance and thanksgiving.
The ship's band broke the morning stillness with a thumping rendition of Fruet euch des Lebens -- Be Happy You're Alive.
Now it was five days later. Thursday, June 1, 1939.
Yesterday's dream of hope aboard the St. Louis had become a nightmare. Only a handful of passengers had been allowed to disembark.
Armed Cuban police were holding more than 900 men, women and children as prisoners aboard the very ship that was to have saved their lives.
Even worse, the president of Cuba had just ordered the St. Louis and her passengers to leave Havana the next day -- or risk being shelled by Cuban gunboats.
It did not matter that thousands of German Jews had already found safety in neutral Cuba as passengers aboard other liners steaming from the ports of Europe.
Nor did it matter that the passengers aboard the St. Louis had paid the Cuban government thousands of dollars in visa fees, which guaranteed them sanctuary from the Nazi death camps.
The Third Reich had decided that the flood tide of refugees fleeing Germany must stop, and pressure had been brought to bear by Nazi diplomats assigned to Havana.
"Reichs Chancellor Hitler would appreciate it deeply if his excellency the President of Cuba would cooperate in this delicate internal matter involving certain undesirable citizens of the Third Reich," the Nazi emissaries had explained to Cuban President Frederico Bru.
"The prestige of my government is at stake," President Bru promptly announced. "The St. Louis, and all on board, must leave the port of Havana."
Terrified by this nightmare come true, one passenger slashed his wrists and jumped from the stern of the liner -- ripping the veins from his arms as he fell into the murky harbor water, only to be rescued by Cuban police.
Reporters and photographers were everywhere, bobbing about the big liner in small harbor craft, screaming questions at passengers who lined the railings.
The harbor air was thick with an insane cacophony of tongues.
"Frutas!" peddlers cried from the rolling decks of their fruit-laden boats. "Coco glace -- cold coconut!"
Dog-paddling in the oil-slicked water, a small school of brown children begged passengers to toss them coins.
Standing in the small boat he had hired to ferry him to the St. Louis, Henry Laskau shouted up to his younger brother Benno, who peered down at him from the deck of the 16,000-ton liner.
Henry, 23, was convinced that his 19-year-old brother's life was in danger. A crew member of the St. Louis had told Henry he would get Benno off the ship in the dead of night for $100. But part of the deal was that Benno, a journeyman engineer, would have to leave behind all of his belongings, including his tool kit.
"The ship is sailing," Henry called up to his brother. "You must get off before it leaves."
"There's nothing to worry about," Benno shouted back. "They're taking us to another place where we'll be safe."
"Where?" Henry cried.
"It's called the Isle of Pines," Benno shouted. "We'll get off the ship there."
"That doesn't make sense," screamed Henry. "There's no place for you to stay on the Isle of Pines. There's nothing there."
"You worry too much," his younger brother shouted down. "Everything will be fine."
Jews call for compassion
United Jewish Israel Appeal website
from The Australian Jewish News
Leaders of Australian Jewry have spoken with one voice on the Tampa crisis - condemning the government's response as lacking in humanitarianism.
Invoking the damning lessons of history, many have cited the shiploads of Jewish refugees who attempted to flee Nazi Europe - only to be thwarted by nations unwilling to accept them, and consequently doomed to perish in the Holocaust.
Emphasising the need for compassion over jurisdiction, Jewish organisations and leaders have expressed bitter disappointment at the government's refusal to grant asylum to those of the Tampa's 438 passengers who are refugees, saying Australia's response "demeans our country".
On Monday the refugees were transferred from the Tampa to an Australian troopship which will take some to New Zealand and others to Nauru for processing.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Nina Bassat called for a compassionate resolution, not a strictly legalistic approach.
"This is not the occasion to stand on international rights," she said. "The Jewish experience supports our conviction that this is a time for Australia to allow humanity and compassion to prevail."
Sydney Great Synagogue senior Rabbi Raymond Apple said the story of the boat people "rings a bell" with Jews.
"Throughout history, Jews have desperately tried to find havens to escape persecution and death. We well understand the plight of modern-day refugees desperate to save themselves and their children."
Rabbi Apple called for a more expansive immigration policy. "Migrants do not take homes, they create a need for homes to be built; migrants do not steal jobs, they create opportunities for employment."
Speaking in Federal Parliament, Jewish Labor MP Michael Danby recalled how the Jewish refugee ship St Louis was forced back to Nazi Germany because countries would not give it sanctuary.
"Then US President Franklin Delano Roosevelt...did not cover himself with glory in allowing that ship to go up and down the American coast. I am afraid that our prime minister risks the same reputation."
Mr Danby said the unauthorised arrival of 11,000 people in the five years of the present government should not cause Australians to fear. "We are a country of 20 million. I am convinced of the generosity of spirit of the Australian people."
Rabbi Moshe Gutnick said Australia should "err on the side of letting in queue-jumpers rather than keeping out one legitimate refugee. As Jews, we must be extraordinarily sensitive to the notion of refugees on ships. Everybody remembers the St Louis. I'm sure those Jews were also called illegals and queue-jumpers."
He said there should be no quotas for genuine refugees. "We must do what is right."
Sydney Jewish Care CEO Steve Denenberg said the government's response demeaned Australia. "For Australia to take its place among the first rank of nations, it has to behave more compassionately than it is."
The leadership of Progressive Judaism in Australia - Penny Jakobovits, president of the Australia and New Zealand Union of Progressive Judaism and Rabbi Fred Morgan, chairman of the Moetzah - put out a statement pleading with the government not to "allow political advantage to dictate a policy that lacks ethical and moral basis".
The Refugee Council of Australia president David Bitel said the government was "pandering to xenophobia. We as Jews must never forget the vast numbers who fled the czarist empire to South Africa, England and the US, just as we never forget the Holocaust. It appalls me that the public can't see it."
Voyages of the Damned
United Jewish Israel Appeal website
from The Australian Jewish News
Refugees prevented from landing. Ships towed out to sea. No two events are the same but nor can history be ignored.
St Louis, May 1939
Patria, November 1940
Struma, February 1942
Exodus, July 1947