Despite all, Afghans think we’re good guys

Virginia Haussegger; 25/4/09; (6 Items)

The hardest thing about leaving Afghanistan is saying goodbye to friends. I could barely get Obaidullah to look at me. Just a week ago, I stood in the Kabul sunshine, in my filthy jeans and muddy boots, and decided not to try to hug him. A handshake would do. But still he wouldn’t look me in the eye. Yes, there’s that cultural thing — a certain modesty between men and women. But it was more than that. I had US dollars in my pocket and an Australian passport in my pack. It wasn’t envy that made Obaidullah overcome with shyness. It was awe. For a young man who has risked his life three times to try to make it to Australia in overcrowded, leaky boats, the simplicity of my exit must have seemed unreal. How is it that I can walk freely through customs and be greeted with “welcome home”, when people such as Obaidullah drift at sea for weeks, nursing sick and traumatised compatriots, convinced they are about to die? All the while desperately scanning the horizon for a glimpse of Australia.


Sri Lanka a problem for us all
James Traub; 24/4/09
At this moment, at least 60,000 civilians trapped in a tiny strip of land along the northern coast of Sri Lanka are being deployed as human shields by the insurgent force known as the Tamil Tigers — while artillery shells fired by the Sri Lankan army land indiscriminately among rebels and non-combatants alike. The United Nations says at least 4500 civilians have been killed since January as the Government has sought to end decisively a bloody rebellion that has lasted for a quarter of a century. The army is said to be preparing a final assault that, according to UN emergency relief co-ordinator John Holmes, could produce a bloodbath. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has spoken of “tens of thousands” of lives at risk. Yet the international community has barely stirred. The fighting threatens to produce exactly the kind of cataclysm that states vowed to prevent when they adopted “the responsibility to protect” at the 2005 UN World Summit. This doctrine stipulates that states have a responsibility to protect peoples within their borders from genocide, war crimes and other crimes against humanity. When states are found to be “manifestly failing” to meet this responsibility, it shifts to the international community, acting through the UN. The obligation is to act preventively rather than waiting until atrocities have occurred, as has happened too often. Why, then, the silence? The most important answer is simple: “the war on terror”. Government officials

Filling the gaps
Kevin Rudd can’t have it both ways. If people smugglers are so “vile”, what about his role in filling their boats? Why doesn’t he put them out of business? On March 31, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had assessed 441 people as refugees from the 1057 people on its books in Indonesia. Australia agreed to take just 46, subject to its own checks, and the US, New Zealand and Canada a total of 17 others. Is it any wonder that people smugglers are called on to fill the gaps? Last year, Australia accepted 4750 asylum seekers with 179 arriving by boat. Would the extra 441 refugees be so difficult to accept to shut down some smugglers and end this horror voyage?; Garry Bickley, Elizabeth Downs, SA

Rudd escalates action over asylum seekers
Tom Allard & Stephanie Peatling; 25/4/09
Waves of Australia-bound asylum seekers crossing from Malaysia to Indonesia have prompted the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, to send the national security adviser, Duncan Lewis, to talk with Malaysian officials about counter measures. This week Indonesian authorities detained scores of refugees seeking to enter Indonesia via Sumatra.

Hey, Australia – enough with the paranoia about boat people, already
Lisa Pryor; 25/4/09
When the right-wing satirist P.J. O’Rourke starts sounding like a chai-drinking, fire-twirling, legume-composting hippie, something is up. On Thursday night he shared his thoughts on this boat people business, on the ABC’s Q&A. “Let ’em in, let ’em in,” he argued, championing a liberal migration policy. Maybe this is because O’Rourke, the author of Why I Am a Conservative, Eat the Rich and Give War a Chance, is not so much conservative as libertarian. But I also suspect his relaxed views on migration have something to do with him being American rather than Australian. Though we love to laugh at Americans for being insular, when it comes to migration, especially boat people paranoia, we are the insular ones. America receives more undocumented arrivals every day than we receive in a year.

We took a lot and now have to give
Hamish McDonald; 25/4/09
As Afghan and other asylum seekers gather in the cheap hotels of Indonesian cities and wait, with diminishing hope, of a place in the orderly settlement of refugees, many are understandably turning in desperation to the services of people smugglers. Having put down family savings or borrowings from moneylenders back home, they pack into decrepit wooden boats, island-hop down the sheltered waters of the archipelago and finally set out on the perilous crossing of the Indian Ocean with the aim of landing on Australian territory. We can thank generations of Australian government lawyers and diplomats for making the journey a lot easier. Some unintended consequences are the legacy of their hardball.