Australia has turned back another boat of asylum seekers from Indonesia, leaving local villagers to rescue the 25 people stranded in the ocean. Indonesian authorities are reporting that Australian navy personnel may have fired shots as part of their operation to stop the boat from reaching Christmas Island.
Yes, you read that right. Shots.
As in actual bullets flying through the air towards a boat of people who were coming to Australia asking for our help.
This is the third boat to be turned back by the Abbott Government since December 13. But it’s the first time (that we know of) that military forces have allegedly resorted to firing weapons in order to deliver on the Government’s promise to ‘stop the boats’.
This is a brand new, devastating development.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has denied these allegations from Indonesian authorities. However his denial comes concurrently with a decision to stop briefing the media on asylum seeker arrivals.
That’s right folks, nothing to see here, nothing to see here.
And the Minister is being elusive: “Without commenting on any specific alleged incident I can confirm that no shots have been fired at any time by any persons involved in Operation Sovereign Borders at any time since the operation commenced,” he said in a statement.
Really, Minister, that’s all you got?
Michael Bachelard, the Fairfax Media Indonesian Correspondent who broke the story, told Mamamia via Twitter that he’s trying to track down someone who was on the boat at the time. “It’s claim and counter-claim right now,” he says, “and unfortunately I haven’t yet found anyone who was actually on the boat.”
Australia’s government has already been chastised by the United Nations for contravening international human rights law with our treatment of asylum seekers. And now we’re allegedly shooting bullets towards defenceless people on a rickety boat; people who’ve heard gunfire too many times in their lives already, having fled from places like Somalia or Yemen or Iran.
The open hostility towards possible refugees is astounding.
Is this really where we’re at now, as a country: firing shots at the vulnerable, terrified human beings who come here for our help? Is this what we’ve become: a nation that opens fire on people who’ve risked their lives to escape war zones?
Stopping people from risking their lives on the high seas in an attempt to get to Australia is absolutely necessary. We have to prevent more deaths at sea and stop desperate people from experiencing further trauma by making perilous journeys on ill-equipped boats.
But surely we can find a better, safer, more humane way of dealing with the issue than firing bullets at their vessels. Like, for example, expanding our refugee program so that Australia can help more people start safe new lives within our borders.