Australia’s Flotilla of the Damned

Australian navy intercepts asylum seeker boat within 200m of Christmas Island on 20 November.

Today’s headline reads, “Christmas Island asylum seeker boat ‘disappeared’ after being towed by navy.” There was no disappearance but rather a death sentence, pure and simple and ordinary. The only news perhaps would be the “disappearance,” except that it’s not news because it’s so ordinary. Australia has learned to disappear whole boatloads of women, children, and men asylum seekers. This is just one more incidence.

The story, such as it is, is short. “A boat carrying asylum seekers was intercepted close to Christmas Island on Friday, the first to reach Australian waters since June 2014. The boat made it within 200m of Flying Fish Cove before it was boarded by Australian officials, sources on the island told Guardian Australia. It is unclear whether the boat was intercepted by Australian navy or Border Force staff. Those on board were given life jackets. The boat was moved further away from the island and covered in a tarpaulin so the arrivals cannot be counted or identified, the sources said. The boat was towed out to sea by an Australian navy patrol boat. After that, thus far, all is silence. The government won’t discuss “operational matters”, and so the boat has “disappeared.”

In 1939, the MS St. Louis famously traveled the Atlantic and Caribbean, seeking a safe haven for 908 German Jewish refugees fleeing State violence. Having been rejected by Cuba, the United States and Canada, the refugees returned to Europe, where they moved to England, Belgium, France, and the Netherlands. In the ensuing violence, it’s estimated that anywhere from 400 to 700 survived the war. What also survived was the shame of those nation States that refused entry, in particular the United States and Canada. Of course, apologies, both State and personal, have since been extended, but the shame is there. This was the Voyage of the Damned.

But the boat never disappeared, nor was it meant to. There was no policy, on the part of so-called democratic States, of forced mass disappearance of refugees and asylum seekers. Now, in Australia, there is. Disappearance is so much more efficient than detention centers and offshore penal colonies. Someday, someone might apologize, but for now there’s simply Australia’s Flotilla of the Damned: women, children, men seeking asylum, set adrift in the silence and the fog of “operational matters.” Because for the state, #OperationsMatter … not women and children.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian)