From Afghanistan to Christmas Island
November 16, 2013 4:43 AM   Subscribe

Undercover journalists publish firsthand account of asylum seeker journey to Australia An undercover journalist has detailed how he and a photographer posed as asylum seekers and took an epic journey from Afghanistan's shady currency markets to Jakarta and on to a flimsy open-decked wooden boat that delivered 57 desperate people to Christmas Island.
posted by Wolof (30 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
My god. I'm so, so ashamed.
posted by Quilford at 4:52 AM on November 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


That is amazing and riveting journalism. Those poor people.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:42 AM on November 16, 2013


As brave as it was for the journalists to undertake this journey, they went in with an opinion and set about to tug at the heartstrings with every emotional appeal in the book.

Like everyone who is critical of border protection policies, they aren't offering any solutions.

At the end of the article he proves that people will still attempt the journey even if they probably won't get into Australia. What do they think will happen if suddenly everyone *is* just let in? Imagine the boon for the smuggling industry. Imagine the lives lost at sea.
posted by nemspyda at 6:53 AM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


Horrible, that we, as humans on this planet, allow other people to face such horror that they put themselves in such incredible danger just to have some kind of peaceful life, and we deny them even that when they make such a leap.
posted by xingcat at 6:54 AM on November 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


wish there was a website or source just for journalism of this type -- it really captures the horror that is usually reported upon later and without the same effect.
posted by skepticallypleased at 7:06 AM on November 16, 2013



Like everyone who is critical of border protection policies, they aren't offering any solutions.


Broad brush much?

"As a middle of the road Aussie conservative, I can't support denying anyone their rights to do whatever they want as long as it's not hurting others."
posted to MetaFilter by nemspyda at 10:48 AM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites +]



Well, as long as they aren't, you know, BROWN and/or POOR.
posted by lalochezia at 7:17 AM on November 16, 2013 [6 favorites]


Once again the pregnant woman was raised up and displayed. “Can you take her with you at least?” asked the engineer. The sailors exchanged embarrassed looks. Plainly, they wished they could.
They could have done, but they were only following orders.

I am ashamed by the Commonwealth countries' shared attitude of “Our Country is Full”. Canada has been quietly pulling this deal since 2006, too, by dismantling the immigration service. All migrants are economic, and just because the current round of migrants don't talk like you do isn't a reason to erect false barriers. They'll come and they'll come and they'll come, many willing to die to do so because to stay where they were is as to have already died.
posted by scruss at 7:20 AM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like everyone who is critical of border protection policies, they aren't offering any solutions.


I seem to remember the Vietnamese boat people arriving in America as their original destination and being accepted and relocated to other countries as they were here in Ireland. A bit of humanity goes a long way.
When people will put themselves through such a hazardous ordeal to escape from their current plight I think the wider world has a duty to respond in creative, generous ways.
posted by manoffewwords at 7:37 AM on November 16, 2013


I'm Australian and I'm ashamed of how our government is choosing to respond to asylum seekers. Two important things that need more emphasis in this article: 1) there is a disproportionate fixation on the "problem" of "boat people". We have HUGE political resources thrown at "stopping the boats" when there actually aren't that many of them AND they are not the primary source of "illegal immigrants". Most of our illegals are white UK visa overstayers and 2) people arriving by boat are desperately fleeing places we've often had a hand in ruining.

Regardless, there is no need to treat people the way we've been treating asylum seekers arriving by boat. Ridiculous as it is, arriving by plane gets you much better treatment. That doesn't even make sense. A lot of Australians are furious. We didn't vote for this, we don't want this. I'm glad these two journalists have brought this story to a wider audience.
posted by stellathon at 7:43 AM on November 16, 2013 [11 favorites]


Why not just try for India? I would think there would be a better chance to land on the shore and disappear into the population.
posted by Ber at 10:22 AM on November 16, 2013


This is not a story we have heard before. No one in the Australian media, to my knowledge, has tried to investigate the ocean route for asylum seekers. We used to see pictures of the damp and pitiful when they got here, but now all reporting on the condition has been effectively quashed.

These are people who have been so demonised by our elected representatives, we have members of society delighted if they drown at sea. Why is it wrong to let us hear their stories?

The worst we can accuse them of is attempting to live with the comfort and amenities of the first world. Who among us doesn't share that?
posted by chiquitita at 1:25 PM on November 16, 2013


Brave and powerful reporting - they took enormous risk to document these sad events first hand, and in very personal and human terms.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:40 PM on November 16, 2013


I seem to remember the Vietnamese boat people arriving in America as their original destination and being accepted and relocated to other countries as they were here in Ireland.

No, they weren't actually arriving directly in the USA: they were brought there from their original destination under one of a number of humanitarian programs. Similar programs exist today, in which refugees identified by the UNHCR are brought to new homes. This program is greatly overburdened, and my reading of that article tells me that most of these asylum-seekers wouldn't qualify for it: they're not fleeing religious or political persecution and so forth.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:43 PM on November 16, 2013


Like everyone who is critical of border protection policies, they aren't offering any solutions.


Broad brush much?

"As a middle of the road Aussie conservative, I can't support denying anyone their rights to do whatever they want as long as it's not hurting others."
posted to MetaFilter by nemspyda at 10:48 AM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites +]



Well, as long as they aren't, you know, BROWN and/or POOR.
Speaking of broad brushes - the whole brown/poor paradigm is trundled out again as if that's the only reason that anyone would like to discourage boatload after boatload of undocumented immigrants pitching up on our shores. A similar tactic is employed in this advertorial for the people-smuggling industry when they imply a double-standard by mentioning how the he and the cameraman were put up in a "luxury hotel" (nice use of 'surprisingly luxurious' hotel to juxtapose more effectively with the plight of the Iranians - The qualifier "surprisingly" inserted so he could say "Well, I didn't really mean luxurious, it was just "surprisingly luxurious, considering"). He was put up in a hotel because he and his colleague, unlike the other passengers, arrived legally, with documentation. I can guarantee you they both were required to fill out visa waiver forms (as holders of US and Dutch passports, respectively) before they were released to their accommodation.

Australian personnel are depicted as either uncaring bureaucrats who snap jingoistic one-liners for petty infractions, or innocuous rookies, reciting mindlessly from a government playbook and hamstrung by protocol. While I don't know anyone in the navy, I do know two crewmen who have worked on the Oceanic Viking (now defunct), Ocean Protector, Ashmore Defender and other such vessels. During the Gillard/Rudd era I was banned from discussing their experiences because they "work for the government of the day -- even if we disagree with their policies we have to enforce them and can't be seen to be critical"; however, now that that is over (and I'm no fan of Tony Abbott, either) I'd like to dispute this article's depiction of the rescue as over-simplified and slanted to portray the boat occupants in the best possible light. None of the rescues at sea that have been described to me have ever involved such universally compliant individuals. It's usually been a mix, some like the ones described here ranging up to the extremely aggressive. These rescues at sea are harrowing experiences. In the last year my friend has engaged in two instances of failed resuscitation. He's had to cling wildly to a woman who tried, unsuccessfully, to throw herself onto the rescue boat, leaving herself and her baby dangling perilously from arms and legs between two boats amid rolling seas. He's been thanked and embraced, but he's also been spat at and clawed at, cursed at, and otherwise abused.

There's no doubt that asylum seekers are desperate. Some are desperate to escape persecution while others are desperate not to lose their investment in a more financially secure life in Australia. It would be wonderful if we could take all the people from unpleasant countries and rehouse them all in the nicer ones. Frankly, many of my nicer, better-behaved, more academically minded students are the children of legal immigrants from third world nations. Nations have a right to choose who they allow in, lest we edge, however gradually, toward becoming one of those less-pleasant countries. That required a process of documentation checking and selection and, should people arrive in boats, detention until we can work out who is who.

My views on the issue are more complex than "keep illegals out". My original post was intended to highlight the flaws in the editorial linked -- an opinion piece, steeped in persuasive techniques, which appears to have succeeded in sowing the seed of thought, at least on metafilter, that goes something along the lines of.... well, you've seen the other comments.
posted by nemspyda at 5:58 PM on November 16, 2013


I seem to remember the Vietnamese boat people arriving in America as their original destination and being accepted and relocated to other countries as they were here in Ireland.

This mainly applied to the first wave of South Vietnamese immigrants; later groups were economic refugees and were not specifically targeting the US. When my family left Vietnam, the plan was to make it as far as the shipping lanes and hope someone saved you. Instead we were chased by pirates, ran out of fuel, and miraculously saved by a passing cruise ship (albeit not without casualties). We wound up in a refugee camp in the Philippines for 14 months before being granted political asylum in the US. My father had the dubious fortune of being embedded with an American infantry division, so our claim was easily verified and processed relatively quickly.

I am glad that I was too young to understand the folly of our quest. Yes, I was seasick, and hungry, and scared. But I will never know the level of desperation required to look at your four children, the youngest only 2 months old, and decide that drifting at sea until you are either saved or killed is the better bet.

I'm not unsympathetic to the problems caused by sudden, widespread immigration. But I hope that you understand the level of desperation at play. I don't have any answers, but if you rely solely on harsh tactics, your only solution when things don't work is to get harsher. Think carefully about how far down this path you're willing to go and still look yourself in the mirror.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:26 PM on November 16, 2013 [9 favorites]


"this advertorial for the people-smuggling industry"

Woah. Did you read the same article I did? Because the entire conclusion of the article is how these people risk their lives (and a great deal do die on the journey, which is the only point I'm particularly sympathetic to, that encouraging thousands more to set out into the open ocean in boats weaker than the canoe we put together in middle school would just lead to even more deaths) and endure such conditions when they really have about a 0% chance of ever reaching the Australian mainland, let alone live some idyllic suburb and sending their kids off to a good clean public school where they'll learn to sing Waltzing Matilda and such. Heck, the article included descriptions of former travelers wishing they had been left to die at sea instead of making it to the refugee prisons. These are not features of effective advertising.
posted by zachlipton at 7:42 PM on November 16, 2013


Zach,

Yep, I was going to change it after rereading to "refugee advocacy industry" but you only get a couple of minutes to edit before it locks.
posted by nemspyda at 8:19 PM on November 16, 2013


Nations have a right to choose who they allow in, lest we edge, however gradually, toward becoming one of those less-pleasant countries. That required a process of documentation checking and selection and, should people arrive in boats, detention until we can work out who is who.

Oh sure they've got the right. It sure is fantastic to be living in a "lucky country" where we can look with sadness over the waters at those poor bastards, then gleefully deny them entry in case our extraordinary quality of life drops. I don't know how people can sleep at fucking night.

I was going to change it after rereading to "refugee advocacy industry"

What the hell? Thank Christ there are people out there advocating for refugees, rather than advocating for them to be left to drown, or, as Tony Abbott negotiated with the Sri Lankan PM today, be shot as they leave before they get the chance to drown.
posted by Jimbob at 11:32 PM on November 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nemspyda, your comment is saying that by the luck of your birth you were born in a rich country, so it should forever stay rich for your benefit, while those people, through luck, through no fault of their own, were born in poor countries, and so don't deserve any better. Particularly if doing do might impact your wealth and lifestyle.

This is straight up xenophobic bigotry and racism. What makes you so damn special that you deserve a life in a rich country? What makes them so awful that they don't?
posted by Jimbob at 11:38 PM on November 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Jimbob, you might say the same about your choices in consumption: why should you have a luxurious meal when so many people go hungry?

I don't pretend to have an answer to this, by the way.
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:32 AM on November 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am not sure how aware Australians are of how this issue is coming to define the Australia throughout the world. I have noticed over the past five years that people here in Europe now don't react to finding out we have moved from Australia with 'why would you leave such lovely weather' but with a discussion about the Australian immigration policy. Unfortunately, it is often something like the conversation my husband had only this past Friday when a German woman, on finding he had moved from Australia, asked why he would want to move here from a country like Australia that was 'dealing properly with immigration, what with stopping the boats and stuff'. Or the Brits who tell me they are so sick of what immigration has done to the UK so they are going to move to Australia - in effect become immigrants themselves and move to one of the most multicultural socieities on the planet (because they all want to move to Sydney or Melbourne). It shames me as an Australian abroad that this is what Australia is now associated with. ESPECIALLY considering how hypocritical the situaiton is considering the lack of effort to police visa overstayers (as mentioned above) who have the resources to fly in to the country and stay rather than risk their life on a boat.
posted by Megami at 2:49 AM on November 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


1813 People are sent to Australia as an alternative to imprisonment.

2013 People are imprisoned as an alternative to coming to Australia.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:56 PM on November 17, 2013


What do they think will happen if suddenly everyone *is* just let in? Imagine the boon for the smuggling industry. Imagine the lives lost at sea.

This is a canard, often repeated with a sad shaking of the head by various right wingers. "There is no alternative."

Problem being, of course, that there are many alternatives. We practiced such alternatives in 1997 before mandatory detention was introduced, before politicians decided to make such hay from a non-issue of acute human misery.

Let's put the problem in perspective (though I don't why I bother, as it seems people have largely closed their ears to the facts on this one). In 2012-2013 we plan to admit 190 000 migrants.. In 2011-2012 there were 14 415 LEGAL onshore applications lodged. That figure includes arrival by plane.

It is not a problem. We are not being swamped, have never been swamped, will never be swamped. I am not interested in discussing hypotheticals, I want to discuss what's actual reality. And reality is that our numbers of asylum seekers are pitiful, absolutely pitiful compared to almost every other western country. And if we are "swamped" so what? These people deserve a life with hope as much as I do.

... my reading of that article tells me that most of these asylum-seekers wouldn't qualify for it: they're not fleeing religious or political persecution and so forth.

That's interesting Joe. I would suggest you do a little more reading, as the actual experts with the knowledge and understanding to assess these cases routinely find that more than 90% of asylum seekers that make it here are deemed to be genuine refugees. Don't believe everything Bob Carr and every other f-wit utters on Today Tonight.

While we are at it, here's a list of other bullshit lies that tend to come when people are justifying our inhumane and likely illegal response to refugees.

I had better stop typing, my blood is starting to boil and it's not good. Suffice to say this is an everylasting source of shame and frustration for me - current policies would have my wife and her entire family that came from Vietnam rotting in Manus Island. It's disgusting and cruel, and if you want to support arbitrary cruelty, you need to own it.

Politicians who have used this as a trivial non-issue with which to draw a line in the sand - especially Labor - deserve to be interned themselves.
posted by smoke at 5:34 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Jimbob, you might say the same about your choices in consumption: why should you have a luxurious meal when so many people go hungry?

I don't pretend to have an answer to this, by the way.


Well, why should I have a luxurious meal, indeed? I think some difference may be found in me not deciding, that by accident of birth, certain people don't ever deserve to have a luxurious meal in case it makes my meal seem less special.

I wouldn't be so radical on this issue if it wasn't such a case of having your cake and eating it too. We're more than happy for capital to cross borders, we're more than happy for our lifestyle to be maintained by the clothes we buy at Target being made by exploited workers in Bangladesh who are paid $0.23 an hour, but if Bangladeshis get jack of that bullshit and decide they want a better life...fuck 'em, we've got ours.
posted by Jimbob at 5:45 PM on November 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Smoke, most of the people in that article are probably not refugees in the terms of the Convention. They aren't fleeing political or other persecution. The article explicitly says so!
Their reasons for leaving varied. They all complained about the government and its chokehold on their freedoms. A few said they had been targeted for political persecution. They bemoaned the economy. International sanctions — imposed on Iran for refusing to abandon its nuclear program in 2006 and later tightened — had crippled their ability to support their families. They were fathers who despaired of their children’s futures, or they wanted children but refused to have them in Iran. The most common word they used to describe their lives back home was na-aomid — hopeless.
So "a few" of them may be refugees in the terms of the Convention, but most are what are often called economic migrants. I don't have a particular problem with that, but please let's not pretend.

You say that we "will never be swamped". Here's a table from a site you linked to, showing the last ten years of boat arrivals:
Year  Number      Number
     of boats   of people
2002 	1   	  1
2003 	1 	  53
2004 	1 	  15
2005 	4 	  11
2006 	6 	  60
2007 	5 	  148
2008 	7 	  161
2009 	60 	  2,726
2010 	134 	  6,555
2011 	69 	  4,565
2012 	278 	  17,202
I don't think you ought to be so sanguine; would anyone in 2002 have predicted that there would be so many arrivals in 2012? Come to that, would anyone in 2007 have predicted it? That's just five years, with an increase of 1000%!

You say that "more than 90% of asylum seekers that make it here are deemed to be genuine refugees". That isn't actually what the data shows: it says that 90% are allowed to stay. In many cases there is no way to tell whether someone is a genuine refugee. This is why the asylum seekers destroyed their ID on the way to Australia: to make it harder to disprove their stories. Your data shows that asylum seekers arriving by plane have a much lower approval rate, around 44%. I suggest that this is because people arriving by plane have a much harder time entering without ID, and their stories may therefore be disproven more easily.

I am descended from refugees; I wish Australia took in more of them. But there are literally millions of refugees sitting in camps around the world; we can simply increase the amount we admit through organised, internationally-recognised programs. We don't need to offer Australian residence as the prize in a lethal lottery.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:24 PM on November 17, 2013


There's something I'm finding hard to grasp with that table. It's basically saying that in the Howard era, we had what, about 140 people arrive by boat? 280 if we include 2007? Why the panic then, then? What was the deal with the overflowing Woomera detention centre, and the new centre set up outside Whyalla to deal with the spiraling numbers?
posted by Jimbob at 6:41 PM on November 17, 2013


we can simply increase the amount we admit through organised, internationally-recognised programs.

I agree, but I can't see it happening, can you? The people worried about the boats are, in all honestly, worried about refugees in general, as can be seen in the widespread racism against Sudanese refugees. And it still wouldn't stop the boats.
posted by Jimbob at 6:44 PM on November 17, 2013


Jimbob wrote: What was the deal with the overflowing Woomera detention centre, and the new centre set up outside Whyalla to deal with the spiraling numbers?

You need to look at the original chart, which goes back to 1975. "Irregular maritime arrivals" increased enormously from a base of around 500 per annum to around 4,000 per annum during 1999-2001.(*) After the changes to migration law they settled down again, before exploding again in 2009.

The people worried about the boats are, in all honestly, worried about refugees in general, as can be seen in the widespread racism against Sudanese refugees.

The weird thing is, the people in the article sound as though they would make excellent migrants: mostly young, with families to offset our aging population, and with the resourcefulness to make it to Australia under their own steam despite all the obstacles. Iran is (or was) a technically and socially sophisticated country and Persian is at least broadly from the same family of languages as English is: it's probably easier for them to pick up English than it would be for, say, Hungarians. Perhaps if we explained that Iranians are definitively Aryans it would make it easier for them to get in.

(*) Evidently they wanted to live under a Liberal-National Coalition government. We can also see that IMAs preferred Fraser and Keating to Hawke, and they effing loved Julia Gillard.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:13 PM on November 17, 2013


(*) Evidently they wanted to live under a Liberal-National Coalition government. We can also see that IMAs preferred Fraser and Keating to Hawke, and they effing loved Julia Gillard.

Oh there are loads of things you could correlate with the numbers. I found it hilarious that last week Scott Morrison declared that the Coalition's policy was hugely successful because October 2013 numbers were a fraction of June 2013 numbers. Yep, let's just pick two random points in time to compare and ignore the seasonal cycle...
posted by Jimbob at 11:33 AM on November 18, 2013


But surely you concede that the sun rises because Abbott brushes his teeth.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:12 PM on November 18, 2013


« Older Sailor Moon Saturday Gone Gaga   |   The ethics of unpaid labour and the OSS community Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments