Funerals were held yesterday for 8 of the at least 30 people who drowned when their boat smashed into Christmas Island in December last year. Among those who were buried were Zahra Ibrahimy, an 8 month old little girl and the father of an eight-year-old survivor of the disaster.
That 8 year old boy, who is now an ‘unaccompanied minor’ in detention on Christmas Island after his entire family drowned on that boat, was among the mourners. Take a moment to imagine what his life has been like since that disaster – and before it.
Paul Kent writes about the mourners and those who died in a piece that makes compulsive reading if you’re at all concerned:
In the first hearse, in a tan craftwood coffin numbered 19388, was an adult. It was Farhan Khaligy, a young father whose eight-year-old son Sinan stood nearby, unable to accept the death of his father and his mother, who is lost at sea.
In the second hearse was a small white coffin, number 19387, which carried eight-month-old Zahra El Ibrahimy.
Her father, Madian, was the first mourner there.
He left Iraq eight months before his wife and two children to set up life in Australia, and was waiting for his family on Christmas Island when the boat carrying them was smashed on to rocks.
His wife, Zman, and son, Nzar, are lost at sea.
In the third hearse was another small white coffin, number 19386, carrying three-month-old Sam al-Hussainy.
His father, Hussein, had also been flown in from Christmas Island for the funeral. His wife, Maryam, was lost at sea.
Shadow Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been putting himself in front of every camera and microphone this week to declare that flying 22 family members to Sydney for the funeral of their relatives was a waste of money. Do you?
At least 30 asylum seekers died when the boat was washed ashore in horrific weather as locals, who could do mostly nothing, heard the screams of men, women and children.
Morrison said there were security issues involved in making the funeral arrangements and that the Government ‘doesn’t understand the value of the taxpayer’s money’.
Here the Sydney Morning Herald reports on his initial comments made on radio:
Mr Morrison told radio 2GB: ”If people wanted to attend the funeral service from Sydney, for example, who may have been relatives of those who wanted these funeral services, well, they could have held the service on Christmas Island and like any other Australian who would have wanted to go to the funeral of someone close to them, they would have paid for themselves to get on a plane and go there.”
The Department of Immigration confirmed it had paid for flights and one night’s accommodation for 22 immediate family members in detention at Christmas Island and Perth to attend the services. They will be kept under police escort, and unable to mix with the community.
How distressing that a man with such an absolute and utter lack of compassion has been given a shadow portfolio as sensitive as immigration. A portfolio that’s not just about numbers but about PEOPLE and real life circumstances. To play political point-scoring and try to grab some media oxygen on this issue? Reprehensible. The lowest of the low.
But if his words were inflammatory and cold-hearted, senior Liberal Joe Hockey brought the debate back to human terms.
Here news.com.au report on his rebuttal of Morrison’s attitude:
Mr Hockey, the shadow treasurer, said the nation had to “retain our humanity” during the political debate on the policy respond to asylum seekers arriving by boat.
“No matter what the colour of your skin, no matter what the nature of your faith, if your child has died or a father has died, you want to be there for the ceremony to say goodbye, and I totally understand the importance of this to those families,” Mr Hockey said in Sydney.
“I think we as a compassionate nation have an obligation to ensure that we retain our humanity during what is a very difficult policy debate.”
Bravo Joe. You showed your mettle with those comments. I’ve always liked you. Thanks for reminding me why.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tried to take the middle ground, but disappointingly, he seemed to side with Morrison when he appeared on radio to discuss the issue:
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott told Melbourne radio station MTR he wants to know why the Government paid for asylum seekers to fly to Sydney for the funerals.
“I’m also curious as to why rellies are being flown around the country,” he said.
“I mean, look, [it's] a terrible tragedy and I think everyone shares the grief of people who have lost loved ones – particularly in these horrible circumstances – but you’re right, it does seem a bit unusual that the Government is flying people to funerals.”
Ugh. Fence sitting and dog whistling is not becoming Tony Abbott. You are a compassionate man – I believe that – so why on earth don’t you show it?
With comments like these the debate has taken an ugly turn at a time of unspeakable grief and loss for the families of those who died. When did it become acceptable to totally remove compassion from the asylum seeker debate?
These are human beings who died in the most horrific way, in many cases in front of loved ones who survived.
We’re not talking about distant relatives. We’re talking about parents who lost their children, their babies. We’re talking about children who lost their parents and siblings and who are now being held in detention in a strange country.
If we cannot spare these people a few dollars and a few ounces of compassion so they can say goodbye to their family, what kind of a country are we?
It’s entirely possible to have a view either way about the process of immigration and accepting those who seek asylum and to demonstrate compassion as well. The points of view are not mutually exclusive with believing in the value of a human life.
It’s very easy to gloss over the horrific nature of events like these when talking about ‘boats’ and other neutral terms, all the while forgetting what this is all about. Those ‘boats’ are filled with families, brothers, husbands, mothers and so on. It’s the most precious of human cargo.
However we deal with the processing of asylum seekers, surely we can all agree that no human life, or their subsequent death and funeral, should be politicised in this way?
What Scott Morrison said and did today was appalling. Appalling.
He thinks bringing 22 desperate and grieving people – some of them children – to Sydney for 24 hours is a ‘waste’ of money. Do you?
UPDATE: Scott Morrison has retracted some of his sentiments from yesterday, though didn’t deny what he said was wrong – just the timing. This from the Herald Sun:
Following criticism from his own party and the government, Mr Morrison admitted the timing of his comments was “inappropriate” and “insensitive”.
“Timing in terms of comments I think is very important I think. The timing of my comments over the last 24 hours was insensitive and was inappropriate,” Mr Morrison told 2GB’s Ray Hadley.
“I made the suggestion (the funeral) should have been held on Christmas Island. That wasn’t the right time to make that comment. I accept that.
“I have to show a little more compassion than I showed yesterday.”