Australia and the Refugees, No Progress

The front pages here have been consumed all week with the saga of the unwanted refugees that has captivated the world and shamed humanity.

To recap: The Norwegian ship rescued more than 400 refugees, most from Afghanistan, when the boat they were on began to sink. Then the Norwegian ship was refused entry into either Australia or Indonesia, the nearest nations. Some of the refugees are sick, though accounts differ on the severity of their illnesses.

The Australians claim to have international law on their side. They certainly don’t have anything else to offer. Their stay-away stance is understandable in the abstract. It is cruel in reality.

One of the ugliest parts of this saga is that Australian officials apparently alerted the Norwegian freighter to the peril of the sinking ship, and urged a rescue. Now the same government is refusing to deal with any of the events it helped set into motion.

Are refugees from horrific places like Afghanistan nothing but garbage to the rest of the world? The West’s anti-Soviet Cold War helped bring the Afghani dictatorship to power. Now the West washes its hands of the mess it assisted in creating.

That’s a geopolitical issue. There are moral ones, and practical ones, too. What ship will be willing to save people in the future, when nations will refuse to help once people have been saved?

The United States is no paragon, I should note, when it comes to treating immigrants or refugees fairly. Our system reeks of bias and politics. And America is grossly unfair in denying basic rights even to legal immigrants who run afoul of the outrageous immigration laws Congress passed and Bill Clinton willingly signed in the 1990s.

Taking a hard line seems to be politically effective for the Australian government. Even the opposition party applauded it, and surveys show solid backing among the public.

Australia doesn’t want to become the refuge of last resort, and that’s more than reasonable. But its actions this week are cold and cruel. It should reconsider. The world is watching.


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