‘Boat People’ Again

‘Boat People’ used to hit the headlines at the close of Vietnam war. They were the victims of ‘revolution’— or ‘counter-revolution’. Hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers were trying to escape state persecution by risking their lives as they were transported to some distant countries clandestinely by smugglers in rickety boats. Many perished in rough sea and those who survived the ordeal were at the mercy of too many authorities, facing a new kind of apartheid and segregation in host countries.
Once again ‘boat people’ are making news as thousands of asylum seekers are heading for Australia, mainly from the conflict zones of Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. And again Indonesian shores provide the transit point. Around 8000 asylum seekers from these countries, according to news reports, have already reached Christmas Island, in the Australian Indian Ocean territory, embarking in more than one hundred dingy boats, so far in 2012.

An increase in boat arrivals and the deaths of more than 650 asylum seekers at sea in the past three years, has promoted a stiffer Australian government attitude. The numbers trying to reach Australia are small compared with more than 58,000 people, who arrived in Europe by sea in 2011. Australia’s centre-left Labour Party government is deterring future arrivals by deporting new asylum seekers who arrived by boat to the Pacific atoll of Nauru, otherwise witnessing radiation problem due to test of atom bombs, or to Australia’s nearest neighbour Papua New Guinea.

In June 2012, more than ninety asylum seekers drowned when two-people smuggling boats capsized in a fortnight, while sailing in the rough seas. About sixty seven asylum seekers were reportedly missing in August 2012, after leaving Indonesia in a small boat bound for Australia.

Human trafficking is no longer female-centric. People are always trying to migrate to new areas of opportunity for sheer survival. Labour migration is a global phenomenon. But political migration to escape state repression and poverty is also taking place universally. Then again it is mostly a third world problem because war that destroys economy and social fabric, is refusing to leave some Asian countries. Trafficking people in boat is now a lucrative business operation of smugglers. Money matters and it matters most in people’s misery.

Vol. 45, No. 18, Nov 11-17, 2012

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