World Refugee Day 2007 readings
The 16 June 2007 edition of The Fremantle Herald features major coverage of Project SafeCom's World Refugee Day event as part of its wraparound for World Refugee Day. With that gesture, The local Fremantle paper declared itself as one of our major sponsors, something we have accepted with great pleasure and gratitude.
IMAGE: The Fremantle Herald's front page of this week's edition, a composite image of refugee camps, dangerous situations and war zones, superimposed on planet Earth, designed by Steve Grant. © 2007 The Fremantle Herald.
Below is the coverage of The Fremantle Herald, including articles by our speakers for the event.
:::EVENT::: 22 June 2007: World Refugee Day 2007: Why the Boats Must Come - A movie evening set to become one of our biggest ever events, with UN Lawyer Melissa Parke, Carmen Lawrence, International Humanitarian Aid worker Jessie Taylor, and the movie We Will Be Remembered for This featuring Malcolm Fraser and Julian Burnside about Baxter and Australia
16 May 2007: Human tide: the real migration crisis: a Christian Aid report - "Christian Aid predicts that, on current trends, a further 1 billion people will be forced from their homes between now and 2050. We believe forced migration is the most urgent threat facing poor people in developing countries. The time for action is now."
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The event's movie
Perth Community TV created a 15-minute documentary of our 2007 World Refugee Day event, which went to air on Foxtel Pay-TV, on Tuesday June 26 in the evening. Below is the movie clip we made for our website.
Why the Boats must Come
The Fremantle Herald
To help celebrate World Refugee Day, advocates Project SafeCom have organised a special night with four speakers and a movie on Friday June 22.
Sponsored by Kulcha Multicultural Arts of WA, The Fremantle Herald and The Justice Project in Melbourne, Why the Boats must Come features retiring federal MP Carmen Lawrence, UN Lawyer and Fremantle ALP Candidate Melissa Parke, Jessie Taylor from the Justice Project and Greens senate candidate Scott Ludlam.
The movie We Will Be Remembered For This tells the story of a group of young people of different nationalities, backgrounds, attitutdes and political views, who travelled to the Baxter Detention Centre in 2006, and were surprised, moved and challenged by the stories of the people they met behind the razor wire.
Why the Boats must Come will be held on Friday June 22 from 7:45 at the Navy Club, second floor 64 High Street, Fremantle. Entry will be by 'generous' donation and it's fully accessible for people with disabilities. For more information log on to the Project SafeCom website here.
As a lead-up to the event, the Herald asked some of the speakers to put pen to paper and outline their thoughts on Australia's treatment of refugees and how they think it could be handled better.
The Other Tampa Affair
The Fremantle Herald
Jack Smit is the Co-ordinator and founder of Fremantle-based human rights organization Project SafeCom. In this short story he ponders what might happen if a group of Americcan senior citizens decides that things are getting a bit too hot in the land of the free. Would we be so keen on the arrival of a cruise liner then?
On a bright and almost cloudless day in August 2018, fifteen miles west of the Abrolhos Islands, the white and elegant P&O Cruiser MS Marilyn steams towards the coast of Australia. On the bridge the captain chats with some grey-haired men, who peer through their binoculars. One of them, retired Brigadier John Skinner, suggests a change of course and the decision gets taken to head for the north coast of Western Australia. Skinner is convinced that their best course for the operation's success is to follow the 'normal' route of all the boats that sought Australia's help since John Howard's government in the 2000's radically altered the formerly humane entry policies into that country's territories. They will be heading for Christmas Island.
The sleek and fast MS Marilyn is fully booked. In fact, it has been chartered for the hefty sum of 1,2 million dollars by a group of self-funded retirees from Tampa, Florida. Skinner retired after working for SOCOM at MacDill Air Force Base, and over the last 18 months he has led a core group of Tampa citizens to consider their future. A few hundred men and women combined their savings and investments, and last month 1200 people set sail for Australia. Over the last 1½ years they had met frequently, peering over weather maps and studying hurricanes since 1998, scrutinizing rainfall data and tracking peak temperature patterns across the east coast of the USA. Two years ago, the hurricane season had spelled disaster for many residents in Miami and it had razed Florida State University beyond recognition. On its destructive trail it had killed 84,000 Florida residents, and even after a dry and hot summer followed by another quieter winter, many parts of the coastal regions were still under water - seawater that is - a situation everyone knows to be permanently.
The final decision to set sail for Australia had only been taken six weeks ago. Unanimously, the group had concluded that waiting for the next hurricane season was equal to risking death and disaster, and this prospect had swayed all those who had been part of the group's deliberations since the start of the planning project.
Since the worldwide virtual collapse of the holiday industry also P&O was only just keeping itself from becoming insolvent, so the offer to lease MS Marilyn was quickly settled. The organisers had shunned publicity, and a secluded farewell weekend for friends and any family left behind had been held at a vacant holiday resort. The journey across to Australian waters had been uneventful, safe and comfortable. But, unbeknownst to those on board, it would soon become much more eventful, uncomfortable, and definitely not safe, not for anyone's psychological well-being. The decision to not sail for the mainland harbour of Fremantle but to head for Christmas Island had set this process in motion. They sailed straight into Australia's "forbidden" excision zone for foreigners seeking help.
* * * * * *
If MS Marilyn would have sailed to Australia exactly 11 years earlier, in August 2007, in the lead-up to the 2007 Federal election, one man in Australia would have been very likely to have frantically started working on this unexpected issue. This man's adrenaline levels would have skyrocketed with the thought that he had the power under Australian law to approach this ship with armed NAVY Officers and deal with its passengers as illegal entrants. He would have been aware that his NAVY had the power to shoot across its bow or inflict a direct hit on its hull. The Australian NAVY, control of which he could assume though a direct order from the Office of Prime Minister and Cabinet, would be capable of boarding it and take the captain and his command and all passengers as prisoners, and treat them as criminals. The Captain of the MS Marilyn, retired US Air Force Brigadier John Skinner, and all of those in the core organising group of these American Grey Power members would be convicted and jailed as people smugglers. The boat would be confiscated and burnt or sunk as useless and surplus property confiscated by the Australian State, probably after rotting away and annoying locals and fisher folk for a few years in Darwin harbour.
This man, John Winston Howard, the Prime Minister of Australia, would have considered that he had amongst his options a forcible return, accompanied by war ships, of the vessel, all the way to the harbour of Miami, Florida, and he would have known that this would have been a brilliant election stunt, to show that he is still in full control of "who comes to this country and in which way they come" and then wait for the applause of the electorate on polling day. He would have considered that his actions, while placing him at great risk, could snatch the polling advantage away from Kevin Rudd and the ALP.
His alternative option would have been to lock them all up as "illegals" in the detention centres around Australia he built, renovated and extended, or would re-open for the occasion: Sydney's Villawood, Melbourne's Maribyrnong, South Australia's Baxter detention centre, the brand-new state-of-the-art detention centre on Christmas Island, or in Darwin, in the Gulf of Carpentaria, or a newly built facility in Brisbane's Pinkenbah. Or he could have gone that one step further and deport the entire group to the Pacific nation of Nauru, or to an existing Australian detention centre on Manus Island in PNG, while he and the Immigration Department would have started an endless and futile administrative war about whether these "economic climate migrants" should be considered as "refugees" and given residency, or forcibly deported, back to their sinking or sunken country.
Following the World War II ravages, Australia resettled more Jewish refugees and other displaced people than any other country in the western world. In the 1970's, Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser - together with his Immigration Minister - toured the country twice to ask the Australian people for their help while instilling confidence in Australians that we could handle the issue, when we resettled 180,000 Cambodian and Vietnamese refugees within two to three years.
That country, the Australia that shone in generosity after WWII, or during the Cambodian crisis, is the kind of Australia I want, especially this week, the week of International Refugee Day 2007. It's unlikely that I will get that country under a Howard government, but we must change, open our hearts and open our borders to receive between now and 2050, our share of the estimated one billion people who flee their countries once these have been destroyed by the ravages of climate change and the associated upheavals.
Why must the boats come?
The Fremantle Herald
Jessie Taylor is doing a Masters in International Humanitarian Aid in Europe. She is on the Board of The Justice Project and a member of Project SafeCom. Jessie is also the driving force behind the documentary We Will Be Remembered for This.
The boats must come because we came on boats. My ancestors, and yours. The ancestors of 98% of Australians came to this wide, wild, empty land, in search of something elusive ... Life. Liberty. A home. Fresh air. Open sky. Solid ground. Fertile earth. Why do the Australian people so struggle to share the bounties of our own inherited prosperity and freedom?
The boats must come because they are filled not with illegals, queue jumpers, and terrorists, but with husbands and wives, lovers and life-partners, brothers, sisters, and babies. The faithful and the frightened. The prayerful and the panicking. The elderly couple on the deck of a rotting fishing boat, tissue-paper skin burning in the equatorial sun. The newlyweds who dreamed of starting a family and a future, not a journey into uncertainty. The teenage boy who has seen his brothers killed, and who chose this boat instead of a shallow grave beside them.
The boats must come because they are rotting, sinking, unseaworthy. Their corrosion proclaims the desperation of their passengers. The storms, the seasickness, the mechanical failures, the stink of petrol and excrement and salt water. The dread of the clouds on the horizon. The boats must come because this terrifying ordeal is safer and more appealing than staying at home. Isn't this - in itself and in conjunction with their endurance of unending detention - a testament to the reality of persecution?
The boats must come because the law says they can. International law, domestic law, Natural Law, and the law of simple human decency. They must come because we have moral, legal, conventional, treaty and customary obligations to welcome them with open arms, rather than closed borders, excised islands and locked gates.
The boats must come because interest rates aren't everything. A government's good financial management is valuable. But what is it really, to be economically rich, but morally bankrupt?
The boats must come because we will be remembered for this. Our children and our children's children will ask us what we were thinking. Why did we allow such suffering? How could we succumb to such cheap fear and hollow suspicion? Did we really let children be put in prison? Did we really send innocent people a bill (including GST) for the costs of their own imprisonment? Did we honestly convince ourselves that those foreigners weren't as frustrated, frightened and humiliated as we would be in those same circumstances?
The boats must come because their inhabitants are human beings. With their humanity come the complexity, sanctity, dignity and value inherent in every human being. Their plights are worthy of our tears, our fury and our compassion.
The boats must come because one day, I might be on a boat. Sailing into the unknown, fear behind me, and hope ahead. On that rickety boat, what will I be praying for? What will I need? What would my mother want for me? To find landfall. To find welcome. To find a place to stop running. Safety. Shelter. Acceptance. Dignity. Life, and a future.
The boats must come because somehow, whether in the past, in the future, or simply in our humanity, we are all in the same boat.
Refugees and Policial Expediency
The Fremantle Herald
Our first response to the term 'refugee' should always be to understand that no one willingly chooses to be in that situation. Refugees are ordinary people fleeing from extraordinary circumstances.
Our second response as Australians, should be to recognise that our share of the world's refugee crisis is actually a very small one. There are 9 million refugees in the world; Australia accepts 6,000 per year under its humanitarian programme.
Given those two things, it is hard to believe that we could do better with our policies on refugees and asylum seekers.
Australia's 'Pacific Solution' is an expensive legal fiction in the style of Guantanomo Bay. The mandatory and indeterminate detention of asylum seekers runs counter to both the spirit and the word of the international law.
The 1951 UN Refugee Convention, which Australia helped draft, provides that refugees shall not be forcibly returned to territories where persecution is feared, nor shall they be punished by any country for seeking asylum. Since the convention was adopted Australia has received tens of thousands of refugees. For many of them Fremantle was the first Australian landfall.
Until recently, Australia's commitment to human rights law enjoyed bipartisan support. In the last decade however this commitment has been seriously eroded in the name of political expedience.
The Fremantle Migrant Resource Centre has been working to support migrants and refugees since 1979 and I encourage those who want to engage locally in support of refugees to contact them: 9336-8282.
Climate Refugees - why the boats must come
The Fremantle Herald
Scott Ludlam is the Green's senate candidate for Western Australia for the forthcoming Federal election. His recent documentary Climate of Hope, which looked at climate change, was a bit hit.
In the next 12 months the entire population of the Cartaret Islands may be permanently evacuated. Rising sea levels are making this beautiful Pacific Atoll uninhabitable, eroding beaches and salinising fresh water supplies. By 2015 the Cartaret Islands may have disappeared altogether.
Perhaps the Cartaret Islanders will go down in history as the first climate refugees, but we know they won't be the last. So the boats must come. The question is, whether or not we choose to bring our carbon emissions down rapidly enough to prevent the kind of 'runaway' warming that will submerge not just these islands, but every low-lying coastal settlement on the planet.
In a recent report by Christian Aid titled 'Human Tide', researchers estimate as many as one billion people could be displaced by climate change if we let the situation spiral out of control. It's a dangerous picture, one in which desperate governments will further militarise their borders in a vain attempt to prevent the stream of people that will be seeking shelter and clean water. Australia has a grim record of treatment of political asylum seekers; we can hardly imagine how our Government will react to vastly larger movements of people.
Fortunately, the future isn't somewhere we're headed, it's something we're creating. Our choices now will determine which future is more likely.
We know how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions steeply and prevent a climate meltdown. Not through wishful thinking, but by adopting some of the remarkable initiatives underway in other parts of the world. Australia is missing out on the clean energy revolution, but that will change rapidly if we get the policy settings right.
The best time to take action on greenhouse gas emissions was twenty years ago. The second best time is right now. Strong action now will prevent the emergency that has already touched the Cartarets from spreading planet-wide.