At least 28 Iranian and Iraqi asylum-seekers drowned yesterday within sight of the Australian territory they were aiming for. The media keeps emphasizing that there were “women and children” on board. If they were all men, would we not need to feel bad about it? is there a universal innocence about women and children that means that even white australians will be able to relate to the people they can otherwise only understand as “boat people”/”queue-jumpers”/”terrorists”?
There is a definite inconsistency between the expressions of mourning, grief and a-political human tragedy that are being bandied around now, and the welcome this boat would have received had it made it safely to the shores of christmas island. Had the tragedy of the shipwreck been averted, Australian headlines would today be filled with alarmist, racist jargon about the need for tougher policies of deterrence against asylum-seekers, and those who were on the boat would be beginning their indefinite prison-sentences, waiting in a detention centre where suicide might start to seem like their best option. Asylum-seekers come from spaces of death and misery over there, and we create further spaces of death and misery for them to occupy here.
I await with fear the racialised, petty onslaught that will be the political fall-out. Abbot and Gillard both went to the polls promising to stop the boats. Well, this boat has been fucking stopped. Refugee law is part of a broader citizenship/migration system that regulates and overwhelmingly prevents the movement of people who need to move. A refugee policy shift now either to the left or the right might minimize the number of bodies floating onto australian shores, where ‘we’ have to see and think about them, but only a much broader paradigm shift is going to minimize the gross spatial disparity that means that people in some areas of the world are desperate enough to risk their lives and leave everything they know and love to get onto a wooden boat heading across the world to somewhere else.