Oh no! Australia is being “swamped” by “boat” people… apparently!

Do you actually know any “boat” people? I know one. She is now an Australian citizen.

Like many Australians she is well educated, employed, pays her taxes and obeys the laws of Australia. She has a mortgage, a family, a dog and a budgie.

Unlike most Australians she has memories that would shock the majority of us. One of them is of her seated on the filthy floor of a crowded prison cell huddled against her father. He was shackled by his ankles. She was five years old. (See article on Vietnamese Boat People.)

Vietnamese refugee, 1980.
Creative Commons license (BY-SA 3.0)

“Boat people” loom large Australian news reports and consequently in the minds of many Australians. I say “consequently” because if it wasn’t for being bombarded by constant news reports and politicians hurling accusations at each other over this alleged “threat” to Australia, I doubt that I would have much awareness of “boat” people at all, which is curious considering we are apparently being “swamped” by them!

An article in the West Australian newspaper, “Boat People Swamp Camps”, is fairly typical of the sort of information the media regularly pushes out to the Australian public. The article makes the issue seem enormous. Note the dramatic language used in the following quotes from this article: “Arriving asylum seeker boats have set a record for the third straight month” and “September’s influx has swamped the capacity of offshore processing centres.” There is also a comment on how the current government had hoped embracing the previous government’s hard line on asylum seekers would “stem the tide of arrivals, which are not only electorally poisonous but also a big drain on the Federal Budget.” (Emphasis mine.) Hmmm … is this apparent refugee “crisis” really be about refugees or is there a hidden agenda lurking in the background here? I mean, I am just asking the question.

This newspaper is not alone in promoting this “crisis” as a measure of Government competency. The Canberra Times informs us that the … asylum-seeker crisis is expected to dominate Federal Parliament… It also reported Immigration Minister Chris Bowen as saying, “The Australian people will be able to judge Parliament’s performance again … because the Australian people have had a gutful of this.” Hmmm … I still only actually know one boat person, but apparently I have had a “gutful” of this issue according to Minister Bowen.

Personally, I am glad that the Australian Government is doing what it can to keep us safe. There are some really bad people out there who we need to be protected from for sure. I am glad to see the Federal police, the Coast Guard and others working very hard to keep us safe. I appreciate the work they do in keeping me and my family safe. Even so, I am wondering though whether this “asylum-seeker crisis” is really more about politicians? Could they be collaborating with a more than willing media in taking the small, albeit pointy stick of the asylum-seeker issue and exaggerating it into a massive club sized issue that they can use to publically thump each other with and debate in parliament? Could it be that while, yes, there is an asylum-seeker issue, that reality for Australia is that it is nothing like the “crisis” level they and the media would have the Australian public believe? Could this be the reality?

Still, being “swamped” by these “boat” people does instill a sense of concern, maybe even fear, in the average Australian. After all, if it is in the newspaper then surely it must be true, mustn’t it? Now fear, whether real or imagined, can be a useful tool, particularly when it can influence voters to change political sides just before an election! OK, OK, maybe I am just being cynical now? I know! Let’s do a reality check by considering some statistics from outside Australian politics. Let’s use data from the United Nations to assess Australia’s asylum seeker crisis for us! Here are some facts to consider:

  • Currently, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) lists ‘persons of concern’ as 1) Refugees (people who flee their home in search of a refuge from war, natural disasters or persecution), 2) Asylum-seekers (individuals who have sought international protection and whose claims for refugee status have not yet been determined) and 3) Internally displaced persons (people who have been forced to leave their homes as a result of armed conflict, situations of generalised violence, violations of human rights or natural- or human-made disasters, but have not crossed an international border.)
  • In 2011, according to UNHCR, the total number of forcibly displaced persons worldwide exceeded 42 million.
  • In 2011 the number of refugees being dealt with by countries outside Australia include: African countries combined, >13 million; European countries combined, >1 million; Asia/Pacific region, >12 million.
  • In 2011, in Australia, 69 refugee boats arrived in our waters carrying 4565 people

So, in 2011 Australia was “swamped” by less than 5000 “boat people” while the Asia/Pacific region, in which we reside, had to deal with over 12 million refugees. It would seem that being “girt by sea”,as our national anthem tells us, means that refugees cannot simply walk to Australia as they can with many other countries. Most of them do not have the means to even try. A very small number of desperate people, some 5000 of them in 2011, perhaps by negotiation with criminal people smugglers and at great risk to their lives, managed to board unseaworthy boats and attempted to start a new life in Australia.

So what do you think? Is Australia really being “swamped” by boat people or do politicians and the media want us to think that there is a “crisis” when the reality is otherwise? Could there be some other agenda going on here? If so, what could it be? What do you think? (See also “Horror journey” – “…it was a nightmare … there was no warning…”)

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8 thoughts on “Oh no! Australia is being “swamped” by “boat” people… apparently!

  1. I do believe that the media over exaggerate the subject a little to much in a way that has made everyone believe that we are being swamped by them. I also think that Australia is a big country yet our population is very little being only 22,620,600, so we could very easily fit more than another 5000 people. Countries like Indonesia and Japan are smaller than Australia yet have a much higher population. The only thing is i think they should come to Australia legally and not illegally, sort of like Mexico and the U.S.A the only difference is that Mexicans can walk to the U.S. That is why I am both for and against the subject.

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    • A well balanced comment James. Interestingly just tonight the PM announced that Australia would take 150 asylum seekers per year and some objected saying this would only encourage “boat” people to try to come here. Given the millions of refugees worldwide I wonder what other countries think of Australia’s “generous” gesture of taking in a whole 150 to help out!

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  2. Well I guess it is hard to choose whether accepting asylum seekers is a good thing or a bad.However it is true that when accepting asylum seekers could mean an encouragement for more and before being accepted they have to face an extreme violent and an unsafe environment. So I think that while it is true that we have room for a couple more people that are living in fear, in the end isn’t your body more valuable? Also the chances are of being accepted isn’t that high.

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  3. i think Australia is a big country with only small amount of people in it i think we could fit a bit more people. and when we people say accepting them well it’s not just accepting we are also saving people’s lives by just simply sharing the big country. i agree our body is valuable but if we were in their place, then how would we feel? will we have enough hope to value our bodies

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  4. It is pretty sad how people cannot tell the difference between the words “asylum seekers” and “boat people”. It is important that people realize that the legal immigrants to Australia, some who are fleeing death andor torture, are not the same as people who try to illegally gain access to our country.

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  5. Its disgusting how unfairly these people are being treated. They are people just like us, and everyone deserves to live a safe and happy life. this whole problem aggravates me so much.

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  6. The media portrays the “boat people” like invaders. Majority of them are seeking refuge from a war ridden country, or have no home left and they sell everything they have to afford a boat to come here (A boat in terrible condition) and then they are treated horribly. It may be illegal but don’t they understand that they have left their country seeking a better life. Can’t they see how much pain and suffering they went through, only to be sent back to the place they left protect themselves and their family.
    This whole program is unjust. Letting people in hasn’t stopped the “boat people” from coming in. There had got to be another reason.

    Maybe this is just my opinion on the matter but not letting people in is just going against Australia’s reputation as an accepting and multi-cultural society.

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  7. I have slightly changed my view on this topic. I believe that Asylum seekers might have faced hard times in their war-ridden countries and want to seek refuge in the more developed countries to have better lives. According to the U.N law it is not illegal to accept asylum seekers and therefore countries cannot turn them down when they come by boat, that’s how they are put in refuge centers until they are accepted. The first fleet were convicts and they came by boat so why end something that started at an earlier period of time? And so when they say that Australia is being swamped by boat people then that is sad as they are implying themselves as well.

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