Asylum tragedy in Australian waters

Tragedy has struck with a boat carrying asylum seekers capsizing.

Tragedy has struck with a boat carrying asylum seekers capsizing off the coast of Christmas Island. So far 13 bodies have been identified but no survivors found.

Australian navy frigate, HMAS Warramunga arrived north-west of Christmas Island early on Thursday morning to search for the boat, which had been spotted by the Australian Air Force the day previously. The boat, with approximately 55 people presumed on the deck, could not be located and no distress signal had been received. However, by Friday the submerged hull of the boat was spotted, but by the time HMAS Warramunga arrived at the scene, only debris, including life jackets could be found.

To date, 13 bodies have been located in the water, but have not yet been retrieved as the search for survivors continues. The 55 people identified on the boat were mostly adult men, but there were some woman and children amongst those missing. Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told reporters in Canberra, "This is another terrible tragedy. Another terrible reminder how dangerous these journeys [are]”. Mr Clare also told reporters that, as is standard practice, the search would be subject to a full review, ‘‘I want to make sure that everything that should have been done, was done,’’ he said. 

The search is being conducted by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), and has been joined by two merchant ships and Border Protection planes.

HMAS Warramunga has been despatched to search for a second boat which has sent a distress signal in the area.

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Opinion: One rule for some…

The news that another boat carrying asylum seekers has sunk off the coast of Christmas Island only serves to highlight the plight of those desperate for a new life.

For the first quarter of this year alone, 75 boats, carrying over 5000 asylum seekers have made their way into Australian waters. That’s a staggering amount of people willing to risk their lives to try and improve the way of life for their families. Sadly, due to a immigration process which simply does not work, many of these people have joined the thousands of others who arrived before them and are still waiting to have their applications processed. And they’re the lucky ones.

Before this week’s tragic boat loss off the coast of Christmas Island, almost 1000 asylum seekers have died in the last decade trying to reach Australia. That’s 1000 lives lost. Not 1000 people who deserved to die because they were doing something illegal, but 1000 men, women and children who were willing to risk it all for a better life.

Yet still many Australians deem these lives to be worthless. Of course there are those who will petition and lobby, fight and shout for the plight of these wives, husbands, children, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, mothers and fathers, but the vast majority will glance over the story in the newspapers, many taking the time to document their vitriol based on the race or religion of those who died.

On the other side of the coin is the young, talented cricketer Fawed Ahmed. Threatened by the Taliban for his work with an organisation which promoted education for young girls and women, through which it deemed him to be promoting western values, Fawed made the choice to leave behind his mother, two brothers and sister and seek a better life. Not for young Fawed the danger of a long boat journey, he was welcomed with open arms by the Yoogali Cricket Association in NSW, which also sponsored his visa. While his application for a refugee visa was assessed, he was able to continue playing cricket and living with friends. While he was limited to the hours he could work and refused legal aid, he did find solace in cricket, soon training with first grade sides in Melbourne.

In August 2012 his application for residency was rejected, but ministerial intervention meant that by November he was a permanent resident. On Wednesday this week, the same day that the boat carrying asylum seekers got into trouble in Australian waters, legislation was passed in Parliament which will see Fawed Ahmed’s Australian citizenship fast-tracked. This is somewhat ironic, albeit in a deeply disturbing way. Fawed Ahmed, hailed as the next Shane Warne, will soon join the national team to face our old sporting rivals England in the hotly contested Ashes series.

It should be noted that Fawed Ahmed himself has worked tirelessly to prove himself worthy of Australian citizenship, becoming involved in Victoria’s Harmony in Cricket Program, which is aimed at helping the state’s considerable Indian population to become involved in the sport and the wider community. But who is to say that the thousands of other asylum seekers who struggle to be accepted by Australia couldn’t offer just as much, if not more?

Is a talent in sport enough to have your Australian citizenship fast-tracked? Do we, as reasonable humans, need to re-evaluate our consideration of asylum seekers and their plight?

This post will be monitored and any comments which are derogatory on issuesof race, religion or basic human rights will be removed.

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