Boat people debate has lost no heat from Tampa days
There’s nothing like the perceived threat of invasion to stir up Australians’ fears.
In many ways, it’s an irrational fear when you consider that historically Australia has been relatively untouched by war or major conflict on home soil and its ocean-swathed borders offer a higher degree of protection unlike land-locked countries such as Afghanistan and many of Africa’s trouble spots.
No, in Australia’s case, it’s not war but the asylum seeker peril that drives our terror of foreign incursion.
Just add the phrase “boat people” and watch the home guard step up to defend our shores.
Last week’s interception by Indonesia of a boat-load of 255 Sri Lankan ethnic Tamil asylum seekers bound for Australia awoke the nightmare again.
Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s successful appeal to the Indonesian President to block the overcrowded vessel from targeting Australia’s shores did little to allay the wider fear of invasion.
The Tamil asylum seekers’ threat to blow up their own boat if they were forced to disembark in Indonesia, followed by the threat of a hunger strike and what looked like a staged plea by a tearful little girl on board to allow them into Australia or another country they considered favourable, only galvanised many Australians’ suspicions about these people’s refugee claims.
This was reflected in reader comments to online news sites around the country.
Mandy of the Gold Coast wrote on News.com.au: “These so-called refugees have so far threatened to blow up their boat, won’t reveal their real names, hide behind children, blackmail via hunger strike and then offer to grass their illegal co-offenders. Great future citizens of Australia!”
Tom agreed on the Herald Sun site: “As a Sri Lankan-Australian, I say don’t give in to this extortion. They are economic refugees. They only want to come here as they see it as a country where they will be better off, that’s all. They are not under threat of death as they would have us believe. Save refugee status for those who really need it.”
Rhonda of Perth zeroed in on the asylum seekers’ threat to blow up their own boat with a message to them on Perth Now: “Please blow it up. What will you lot do if you don’t get your own way once you are in Australia, plant a bomb? Extremists are not welcome here.”
Despite Kevin Rudd’s tough talk on border protection last week, KS thought the Government was not doing enough to stop the flow of asylum seekers, writing to the Herald Sun: “The Government must take a tough stand. We cannot simply take every person who decides to jump ship from their own country for whatever reason. We cannot simply roll over and be morally blackmailed by some of these people. While I am not without compassion, these people knew there was no guarantee of success.”
Graham Parkin of Kariong, NSW, had a suggestion for the Rudd Government on abc.net.au: “It is time we started sending asylum seekers’ boats back. They are refugees, have a difficult life, but this country cannot afford to keep taking boatloads infinitum. Something has to give and sending one or two back might just send a message that Australia, while willing to help, is no soft touch.”
But Nicole of Sydney gave a thumbs up to the Government’s response, writing to the Daily Telegraph: “Good on you Mr Rudd! When will the do-gooders realise that a refugee flees to the closest country, not halfway around the world? These people could have hidden pasts or agendas. Yes, it is sad, but there are legal ways to enter this country.”
Despite the wave of opposition to accepting more boat people, there were a few voices, like that of Aimee of Southport on news.com.au, who appealed for greater compassion: “How can we stand by and let this happen? These people are fleeing genocide and we have refused to help them! … It’s time that we stopped treating the world’s most vulnerable people like criminals!”
But online reader opinion shows time has not softened many Australians’ hearts when it comes to defending our shores from the asylum seeker invasion and the “Fortress Australia” mentality still rules.
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