This morning, there are reports of another asylum seeker tragedy off the coast of Italy. Over 50 people have been confirmed dead after their boat sank south of the island of Lampedusa. The tragedy comes after over 300 asylum seekers lost their lives in the same area, following a similar incident last week.
By JADE GINNANE
Last Friday, October 4, Italy declared a national day of mourning for the hundreds of men, women and children’s lives lost in the horrific sinking of a migrant boat, carrying an estimated 500 people.
The Italians demonstrated an enormous capacity for compassion and sorrow to those affected by this terrible tragedy.
A few days later, Australians woke up to an opinion piece by former immigration minister under the Howard era, Amanda Vanstone, declaring that a sad story from an asylum seeker does not entitle them to seek sympathy or refuge in Australia.
The story, ‘Media-savvy asylum seekers play hardball’, published in The Age, also declares: “Their modus operandi is to get as many sad stories associated with asylum seekers into the Australian media as possible. They want to press our sympathy button until we can’t stand it any more.”
And isn’t that the truth. We cannot stand it anymore so we are looking the other way. Australia has looked the other way 143 times in fact, with findings handed down by the United Nations in August this year finding the nation guilty of that many violations of international law in relation to the detention of 46 refugees. This is shameful, yet we still continue to read about ‘boat people’ who are ‘un-Australian’ ‘island hoppers’ and an inconvenience to a country suffering from a huge dose of indifference.
In July this year, Pope Francis marked his first appearance out of Rome by travelling to the tiny Italian island,
Lampedusa. The island had been rocked by tragedy only days before after a migrant boat attempting the arduous crossing from North Africa sank resulting in a significant number of migrant deaths. Upon arrival, Pope Francis decided to use his philosophical strength and power to openly criticize the rich for their inability to feel concern and to tolerate those in this world who need the most help and deepest sympathies. Describing the time in which we live, as a “globalization of indifference,” the Pope accurately concluded, “We have become used to the suffering of others. It doesn’t affect us. It doesn’t interest us. It is not our business.”
As Australia bears witness to an increased number of displaced global citizens searching for a new life, often taking the journey by boat (which is plagued with risk and huge cost) we are noticing ever-increasing indifference and intolerance, fuelled by the media. While we might believe the number of people arriving by boat to be in the hundreds of thousands, Australia saw only 15,800 people-seeking asylum in 2012. And this was not the highest figure globally speaking.
In the national media, language to describe asylum seekers regularly includes ‘illegal’, ‘boat people’, ‘people smugglers’ and ‘suspected illegal entry vessel’. Front pages depict ‘boat people’ infiltrating our shores and taking our jobs. In some cases Sydney’s popular tabloid the Daily Telegraph, sees it fit to discuss the issue with headlines such as ‘Refugee’s island hop their way back to Australia.’ Which encourages concerned citizens to conjure images of asylum seekers taking a luxurious trip around the Pacific Ocean at the expense of the Australian government.