Woody is a sailor in the Australian Navy. He spends most of his days rescuing asylum seekers from leaky boats and/or the ocean. When he has time, he writes to us about our border situation. As you may have guessed, this is against Navy rules, which is why Woody is not his real name.
It’s been a while since you all heard from me. This is partly due to operational tempo and, partly due to a couple of Australian Defence Force investigators browsing social media trying to find the identities of a few whistle-blowers and bloggers (myself included).
So, down to business. A few months ago I was able to interview an asylum seeker at Christmas Island (CI). This was before the changing of PM’s and the new PNG solution. A lot has changed since my last post where I talked of "Turnaround Policy". Now the Australian government is simply refusing to settle asylum seekers in Australia. If you’ve picked up a newspaper in the last month and a half you would have seen the government's new message, “If you come here by boat without a visa you won't be settled in Australia.”
Instead of being processed in CI or mainland Australia all cases will be processed in Papa New Guinea. To my amazement this new policy is in fact working. Already there are reports of trips being cancelled by people smugglers, and asylum seekers are taking a stand by demanding their money back from the leaders of these smuggling rings. Best of all, this new policy is putting less pressure on people like me who are on patrol.
It’s still early days though. Within hours of the policy being enacted a number of Suspected Illegal Entry Vehicles left CI carrying an exceptional large amount of people. The boats had been to with excessive and dangerous numbers. The leaders of the smuggling rings were trying to send a message to the Australian government. In the end though this new policy is dependent on the asylum seekers themselves. They now know that they will be sent to PNG. It’s a deterrent that’s working.
As for myself, I’m caught in the middle. I do see the good that this policy is doing but also fear for Australia’s image when it comes to dealing with immigration. Many world leaders seem to disagree with the policy including high officials at the United Nations. Do I care about that? Not at all. I care for the safety of the asylum seekers. Especially when it comes to children who have been forced to take these voyages. The voyages are dangerous with no guarantees of arrival. It’s a massive gamble and now with this new policy, it’s also a waste of time.
Anyway, here’s that interview.
How long have you been traveling for?
It's been two months since I left home. I started from Kazakhstan and was on a truck for a long time. How much did you pay for this journey?
Quite a lot. $15,000 US, a bit less than usual. Why is it less?
When my brother found out I was leaving he gave me a lot of food for the journey for myself and others. He had heard many starved and fought over food. Since I had extra food to put forward I paid less. Who did you pay for this journey?
I'm sorry but I'm scared of what might happen if I tell you. My family is still in Kazakhstan and might be hurt. What was your plan before setting off?
I don't really know. I'm the first in my family to try something like this. I said I would do it so when I got to Australia I could tell my family what the trip is like. Do others in your family plan on taking the same trip?
No. They are too worried about the journey but they'll be waiting to hear from me before they make a final decision. Do you have guides or someone who knows the route to Australia?
Different people know different parts of the route. From Kazakhstan we go down to India, then to Sri Lanka. The boat crew know the way to islands in Australia. Why not go directly to Australia, why does the crew only go as far as these islands?
I don't really know. I think because of the laws. What are you expecting mainland Australia to be like?
I know very little outside my country. I know that Australian people are free people. Life is sustainable. You people can live free from war in your country and protect your family. That is what I want.
What do you think of people like me in the navy on these patrol boats?
We were shown picture of the navy so we could recognise the uniform. We were told that you could help us.
This is a fairly typical story. No plan, just a lot of desperation. The most you could probably say is with all the uncertainty a trip like this entails, asylum seekers can finally be sure of something. Whatever it is they’re running from, they’re officially not welcome in Australia.
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