A new light has been shone on the murky world of people-smuggling into Australia by a Tamil recently granted protection after flying into the country on false papers. This is the most common route used by asylum seekers arriving in Australia, with the numbers who arrive by plane dwarfing those that arrive by boat by about 10 to 1. Also, according to the Refugee Council of Australia, typically 45% of asylum applicants arriving by plane end up being granted protection, compared with 90-95% of boat arrivals.
Yet it is the 'boat people' that are routinely demonised in the media and because of the widespread media coverage the average Australian is well acquainted with the prices of the typical people smuggling 'fee' for a boat trip from Malaysia (with Indonesia the most common set off point for Australia) - around US$15,000. Now we have learnt via The Australian newspaper that the typical people smuggler's air 'fare' is US$40,000, including false passport and visas.
Thus, the ill-informed racist rhetoric of the politicians and mainstream media that the 'boat people' are undeserving chancers, who obviously must be so because they can afford to spend so much money getting to Australia, has been holed below the waterline. Instead, as asylum support groups have long argued, they are some of the poorest most vulnerable people who chose to flee conflict zones by some of the most hazardous routes imaginable on journeys that can last for years and cost the lives of thousands trying to make it to a better future.
The bottom line is that having money makes it so much easier for you to move freely around the globe and the more money you have the easier it is. It is only the poor and vulnerable that have barriers put up against their freedom of movement.
In other news on Australia, Kevin Rudd is seeking to raise the issue of Tamil asylum seekers at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago later this week. He fears that the Sri Lankan governments announcement that that the remaining 136,000 Tamil refugees, held in the squalid and overrun government internment camps since the war ended six months ago, will be free to return to their villages after the beginning of December, will spark a new 'wave' of 'boat people' trying to get to Australia*.
More news about the 'riot' incident on Christmas Island on Saturday night has leaked out despite a long-standing ban on contact with detainees on the island. It appears that the fight broke out during a game of pool and a total of 43 detainees were injured, with 10 detained in the Island's hospital and 4 flown to the mainland for treatment. Five Serco staff receiving minor injuries. Immigration Minister Chris Evans has dismissed claims that the trouble was over the disparities in the frequency of the granting of protection visas to different ethnic groups** and claimed that two Afghans refusing to give up a pool table sparked the incident.
Interestingly a number of recreational spaces have recently been turned into accommodation areas to cope with overcrowding and the detainees have complained about the lack of activities. Recently Serco has also cut back access to the internet to 40 minutes a day. Whether this is down to 'security issues' as Serco have claimed, or their recent cost cutting exercise that has seen the allocation of tea bags cut to 2 per person per day, we do not know.
* Earlier today the Sri Lankan navy seized four fishing trawlers carrying 142 people heading for Australia. As was the 46th asylum seeker boat intercepted in Australian waters this year, and the second in as many days.
** 544 Afghans were granted protection visas this year against a total of only 21 Sri Lankans.