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What do we do with the boat people?

Nandita Jayaraj
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Scared but hopeful they hop on a boat,

A long ride, little food, no shoes nor coat,

A new home they seek,

Ignore the boat’s creak,

Rough weather ahead, it may be useful to note.

On Saturday, a vessel carrying 81 refugees was stopped by the Australian Navy as they reached Christmas Island, Australia’s closest point to Indonesia.

They will soon be sent to cramped facilities in Manus Island in Papua New Guinea (PNG). These are the first of the “boat people” to experience a controversial new Australian policy.

Who are the boat people?

The “boat people” are refugees - people who flee to a different country because their race/religion/ethnicity puts them at risk in their own country.

Indonesia is where thousands of refugees pay people smugglers to ship them off to Australia’s Christmas Island.

This year alone 218 boats carrying more than 15,000 refugees landed here so far.

Why Australia?

Australia is one of the countries which has signed the United Nations Refugees Convention. This makes them obligated to protect refugees who land up there.

What are the dangers?

The boats that carry these people are often overcrowded and unsafe. Many of them meet with accidents on the way killing hundreds of passengers.

Also, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd says that this trend threatens Australia’s border security and abuses their system.

What does the new policy say?

The government recently adopted a policy by which all refugees landing in Australia will be sent to neighbouring Papua New Guinea. Once their refugee status is confirmed, they will be allowed to settle in PNG. Australia will in return give PNG aid and improve hospitals and schools.

What is the controversy?

Human rights groups and several other experts think that Australia is being selfish by pushing its burden on a developing, poor and unstable nation like PNG which can barely manage its own people.

Moreover, people also think PM Rudd is exaggerating the refugee threat. Australia ranks only 47th on the list of countries hosting most refugees.

Also, most of the refugee camps in PNG are in a pitiable state and are ill-equipped to handle thousands of refugees. Even if they are granted asylum there, they will probably lead miserable lives.

nandita.j@thehindu.co.in

This article has been corrected for grammatical errors


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