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A Day For Remembrance and Unity, Not Division

It’s hard to believe that ten years have passed since what people have called our 9/11. This was our great loss of ordinary, everyday Australians enjoying holidays and end of season sporting team excursions. It is the worst terrorist attack that our nation has had to cope with, 88 Australians dead out of a total death toll of 202 with more than 200 injured.

Last year the United States of America had the 10 year anniversary of their own mass tragedy, 2752 killed in a different place, but for the same unjustifiable lack of reason.

What must be said too, is that it is not just our loss today. While a great number of those murdered were Australians, families around the world, whose loved ones ventured to Bali are also going to be grieving today. It is as much their loss as it is ours. Their grief is no less than ours.

What could have easily split our region, but also our world along rigid religious and cultural lines has actually brought us together in a common bond, a shared belief in decency and respect for all human beings based not on religion, but humanity. The small number of terrorists that have tried to tear our region and world asunder because of hateful and warped ideology are losing and will continue to lose.

Two nations that had experienced a long and troubled relationship, including the split over East Timor just a matter of years before, could quite easily have further parted ways. Instead the leaders of both our nations managed, from the ashes, to piece together arguably a stronger relationship than we have ever had with Indonesia.

Survivors, families and friends have had to endure the full gamut of emotions over the last 10 years. From the initial anger and sadness felt by them, by all Australians back in late 2002, we have shifted to a point in time where, for many, all but the deepest of psychological wounds, the awful memories of devastating scenes, of people dying and dead, people injured remain. Many of the victims, their families and friends have truly reached a level of acceptance, that nothing can bring those they lost back. But the thoughts, the memories will remain forever.

Most of us would not be able to begin to imagine the loss incurred on a human, a familial, a personal relationship level. This is not because many people haven’t experienced death, many of us have. But what the vast majority of us have not experienced is the untimely loss of a loved one, a family member, a friend, a teammate. Nothing could prepare us for such an abrupt and unexpected loss. Nothing could have prepared anyone with any direct involvement for the mode of loss either.

Today is a day that has to be about remembrance, one that we can share with each other. It is a day for quiet reflection, for empathy. Supporting others is something that we as Australians do remarkably well, whether that be through charity, or just providing a shoulder to cry on, calming words and thoughts.

Today is also a day to remember what, because of September 11 in the first place, we are actually fighting for. For some we are fighting a whole religion and that is a misplaced thought, we simply are not. We are not because of the attacks on the western world, fighting mainstream Islam. In the main, what we are fighting is a warped, a truly ugly interpretation of the religion. Yes, we may be hoping to change some of the practices through our efforts in Afghanistan, such as those that see women as second-class citizens, but the primary objective of our mission is to tackle terrorism.

Despite what some people may think, Islam taken as a whole is not dominated by people wishing to do us harm. If it was, we would have been defeated and subjugated across the world by Islam a long time ago. Nothing is to be gained by ascribing the same label to all Islam because of a small sect that hold a particularly obscene belief based on a misinterpretation of the Qur’an which fans hatred and intolerance and leads to gratuitous violence.

Let today be a day of further healing within the families of victims, of their friends and of Australians. Let it also be another day of maintaining and further repairing ties between faiths and cultures and also the relationship between Australia and Indonesia. What today must not be is one of hatred and intolerance toward Islam as a homogeneous group. If we were to do that then we would be surrendering not just to reason, but also to those who perpetrated the horrific acts and those that still want to inflict death upon us.

Attention UNHCR: Not Just Australia That Needs to Do More on Refugees

This morning the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) put out a statement calling on Australia particularly, as well as the international community to assist more in providing humanitarian assistance options to help stop asylum seekers taking “dangerous and exploitative boat journeys”.

The UNHCR, tasked with overseeing the provisions of the United Nations Convention on Refugees made these comments in response to the terrible tragedy overnight where an asylum seeker vessel capsized en route to Australia, with 3 confirmed dead, 110 rescued and approximately 9o people still missing.

This most recent tragedy again emphasises the need, like the refugee agency points out, for countries like Australia to do more and in some cases, at least something to cut down on the need for these desperate people to make the seriously dangerous journey in craft often not much more seaworthy than a large esky.

It is important to recognise that the refugee situation begins long before people reach Australia and while we can and should do more, we cannot be expected to take all of the burden, particularly after refugees who seek asylum by boat have made their journey often through and past other nations before arriving in Australia.

But this is only part of the story and but a part of the solution needed in an attempt to stop asylum seekers from risking their lives trying to find a better, safer life in places like Australia.

The High Commission for Refugees is itself part of the problem with processing though admittedly difficult, in many cases actually being very slow and leading to many refugees being stuck in limbo, whether that be in refugee camps dotted around the world in conflict zones or stuck in limbo in other ways.

The UNHCR do need more resources and time deployed in major conflict zones and countries facing humanitarian crises, but this is only the first step, however it is an undeniable aspect of the refugee situation that cannot be ignored.

It is also true the asylum seeker/refugee conundrum of refugees in camps within and near countries in turmoil is not just down to the slow action of the UNHCR in processing refugee claims.

Countries around the world that have signed the Refugee Convention are obviously too dragging the chain with absorbing the number of refugees currently awaiting relocation and asylum seekers that wish to seek protection in another country. This could be down to many reasons and the cost burdens particularly after the effects of the Global Financial Crisis and the continuing Euro crisis are factors that cannot be denied in the current debate over refugee relocation as far as some nations go.

This does not excuse the chain dragging prior to the financial events that have negatively impacted on economies around the world. There are obviously issues that have meant that prior to the financial events that have devastated countries around the world that as a result countries have not taken up the massive amounts of refugees around the world.

The scale of the refugee problem is massive and borders on the unsolvable at the very least at a political level with, as of 2010 a total of 43.3 million people worldwide who were either identified as refugees, internally displaced people (IDP’s), asylum seekers, returnees or stateless people.

No one government, no series of governments, no agencies, organisations, no one person or people will be able to guarantee that in the future nobody will get onto boats in desperation and head to various countries in the world. That is the sad reality. The potentially deadly situation can only be minimised.

The first part of any reduction to the refugee  problem is that the remaining 50 odd nation states not signatory to the convention should be persuaded to sign on the dotted line, though some of these nations are where the asylum seeker situation begins and others are middle destinations where asylum seekers and genuine refugees can languish for years before making the journey to places like Australia.

Obviously another response to the issue is for nations around the world that are signatories to the convention, but not to the protocol to sign that and enshrine it in their respective domestic law and then make appropriate arrangements in accordance with those provisions too.

Obviously too, many nations could and should increase their intake of refugees and seek to undertake with the UNHCR to help with the massive processing task which stymies the refugee process from the outset and leaves many in desperation within their own countries or in other nations in their region.

These last two points need to include, in particular Malaysia and Indonesia signing and adopting the Refugee Convention provisions and the protocol into their own law because these two nations are often the final stopping point and often the destinations from which asylum seeker vessels embark on the perilous journey towards Australia.

Other countries in our region that are signatories to the Refugee Convention and its protocol must also increase their share of the processing of asylum seekers and refugees and we must continue to work harder under the Bali Process as a region to deal with the movement of people who have found themselves in dire circumstances.

Another ingredient in the global recipe to cut down on the deaths of asylum seekers is for nations to truly tackle people smuggling. But this alas is made all the more complicated by the immense coastlines of the nations from where refugees come to Australia. It is also made difficult because of levels of police corruption  and complicity in the criminal act which have been found to exist in the region when it comes to the asylum seeker trade plied by these individuals and groups.

The final part of the puzzle is that Australia must increase our intake of refugees, at least by a similar extent to the increase we would have taken in under the so-called ‘Malaysian Solution’. This simply has to be seen as a reality if we really view people drowning at sea as a problem and we should.

The problem is not just an Australian one and becomes a bigger situation for Australia to deal with once refugees and asylum seekers reach our region and that needs to be recognised by other nations and the UNHCR before implying Australia above others particularly in our region needs to bear responsibility for stopping people getting on boats and coming here. Other nations in our region simply go close to ignoring the asylum seeker plight and the people smuggling that comes with it altogether.

Sadly, the scale of the task that is dealing with refugees in a fast, efficient and orderly way is astronomical and the process time consuming with the sheer numbers already seemingly well beyond reach of being able to deal with. However, we have to as a nation, a region and as an international community all try to minimise the risks of asylum seekers dying at sea.

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