In a front page article in the Australian (29/6/2012) “Refugees cut-price tickets to death”, Stuart Rintoul described the circumstances surrounding the boat that capsized on 21 June with the loss of 90 lives. Rintoul reported that the asylum seekers on the vessel had paid a reduced rate of $4500 and had been assured that there would only be 125 people on board.
When the time came to board they found to their dismay that there were more than 200 people boarding. The agent told them not to worry – that when they got out to sea another boat would take half the passengers. The article goes on to say that they did not really believe the agent but felt there was no alternative. Then came the sentence that really jumped out at me – “One man did not board the boat”.
I wonder how this man feels now. It is estimated that 90 of the 200 people boarding did not survive. Is he happy that he chose not to go? There was an almost 50% chance that he would have perished but on the other hand there was a greater than 50% chance that he would have made it to Christmas Island and relative safety.
In the fantasy world of Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott this would be a no-brainer. Who would see a 1 in 2 chance of getting to Australia and safety as a reasonable risk. But in the real world where many of these people faced death or worse in their own countries and then have suffered so much in getting to Indonesia maybe a 1 in 2 chance of success might not seem so bad.
The terrifying nature of the world that the asylum seekers coming to Australia live in was brought home to me recently by Robin de Crespigny’s recent book “The People Smuggler” – the true story of Ali Al Jenabi referred to by some as the “Oskar Schindler of Asia”. In the book are graphic details of Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers and the amazing journey that Ali makes when he flees Iraq and makes an “incredible international odyssey through the shadow world of fake passports, crowded camps and illegal border crossings, living every day with excruciating uncertainty about what the next will bring.”
This book helps us understand why so many people take such steps to escape a situation that for many could only be called “hell on earth”.