NewsReal Looks at the World: This Week, Australia
While Janet Napolitano and other members of the administration of Barack Obama are spearheading efforts in this country to confer full rights to illegal aliens and make our southern border as secure as the Maginot line, it may be illuminating to see how other countries are dealing with the problem of illegal immigration, and failing.
One country currently experiencing its own public debate over illegal border crossings is Australia. In fact, that country has been occupied of late with an embarrassing incident that can only be described as an imbroglio.
A group of 78 mainly Sri Lankan illegal immigrants sailed from Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, for the long five-week journey to Australia. As they approached Christmas Island in the Pacific (an Australian territory), they either accidentally or deliberately set fire to their vessel. The fire caught the attention of the Australian Navy, which placed the illegals on an Australia-flagged vessel called the “Oceanic Viking.”
The question now was what to do with them?
Australia has a left-of-center government. Deporting the Sri Lankans, who are so ethnically and culturally different from the typical Aussie, would not be perceived as being the politically correct thing to do. And immigrant rights groups were already starting to accuse the government of racism. To further complicate matters, Sri Lanka doesn’t really want them back anyway. The Sri Lankans on the ship were Tamils, and that group was on the losing side of that country’s recently concluded and bloody civil war. After decades of conflict, Sri Lanka is an economic basket case, and 78 fewer Tamil mouths to feed would not be missed.
The Australians now had a dilemma on their hands. If these were political refugees, taking them in would make the government look good on the international stage and satisfy domestic critics. But these were not political refugees; they were economic, and the government feared that allowing them to settle would set a precedent and encourage future boat people to try their luck.
Australia’s government thought it through, and came upon a novel solution: the Ocean Viking was to set sail at once and drop the refugees off—in Indonesia!
There were two problems with this plan: 1) the Indonesians didn’t want them either; and 2) the illegals wanted nothing to do with Indonesia. They wanted to go to Australia. They demanded to go to Australia.
That’s when things got ugly.
When the Ocean Viking docked in an Indonesian port, the Sri Lankans refused to get off the ship! For over six weeks, they kept the situation at a stalemate. They threatened violence against any attempt at forcing them to leave the ship, even threatening to kill themselves en masse if any effort was made to try and force them to disembark. They talked to the media, accusing the Australians of racism. The Australians found themselves caught in an embarrassing situation of their own making that was taking on an international dimension by putting political correctness over the security of its borders.
Being indecisive caused a ripple effect. It gave the Sri Lankan government the opportunity to wash their hands of the matter. The Indonesian government was furious over not being adequately consulted by Australia as to its plans and saw a double standard since the Australians have in the past not hesitated to deport Indonesian fisherman caught fishing in Australia’s waters. An Indonesian official spoke bluntly:
What has made us feel offended is that at the time when the Sri Lankan illegal immigrants entered their waters territory, Australia gave more burden to Indonesia by sending the illegals to Bintan district [of Indonesia] on the pretext of cooperation. Why does Australia not deport those illegals to Sri Lanka as what that country often did in the past against Indonesian fishermen?
By not immediately deporting the Sri Lankans back to their own country and putting the world on notice that its borders are not negotiable, the Australians are on course to making the same mistakes we have, and will soon be flooded with refugees.
Meanwhile, the illegals are still calling the shots on the Ocean Viking, and Sri Lankans back home have interpreted Australia’s indecision over the handling of the incident as an open invitation–300 more Sri Lankans are being held after having been intercepted off Australia’s northern coast last week.