An Oceanic Grave for Migrants
by HAMIDREZA BOHLOULI
21 Dec 2010 00:40
Christmas Island tragedy garners little attention.
[ comment ] For most, the headline was all of the story that they ever learned: "100 Asylum Seekers on Boat Wrecked at Christmas Island Were Iraqis and Iranians." The tragedy in the Indian Ocean last Wednesday received little coverage in the international media. Iranians in particular remained indifferent. Neither the Islamic Republic's state-controlled media nor the Iranian human rights whistleblowers paid much attention to this tragic incident. IRNA, the government news agency, briefly quoted other wire services with little or no mention of the fact that there were Iranians on board the vessel. Not even the graphic footage available online of the crowded wooden boat shattering into thousands of pieces seemed to trouble Iranians. Does this mean that the Iranian people have become desensitized toward the lives of their fellow citizens, in particular when it comes to "irregular migrants"?
While Iran's state media cold-heartedly belittled the fact that there were Iranians among those on board, according to Australian officials, Iranians have represented the second-largest national cohort among irregular maritime arrivals this year. Over the past three decades, war, political instability, and human rights violations have resulted in Iran becoming one of the world's leading sources of emigration. According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), an estimated 100,000 Iranians seek asylum abroad each year. Almost 80 percent have no access to UNHCR assistance and wait in countries such as Turkey and Iraq under inhumane conditions, subject to detention and abuse. After long delays, their asylum applications are in most cases denied and they face deportation.
The international media that cover the story are missing the main point by focusing on the human traffickers and blaming them for the lives lost. Tougher border control measures and more restricted access to asylum systems have led to increasingly well organized people smuggling operations. The Australian government, like those of other countries, should be held accountable for implementing inhumane migration laws. But above all, the native countries of the asylum seekers are most to blame.
About 6,300 asylum seekers arrived in Australia last year. Christmas Island, a tiny Australian territory that lies much closer to Indonesia, is for thousands of desperate migrants, including Iranians, a gateway to a chance at a decent life. Among the first bodies recovered, there were four infants, three children, nine women, and 12 men. By Monday, the official death toll had risen to 48 and many of the missing may never be found.
Their dreams of a better future, which they shared with thousands of asylum seekers before them, were shattered by the ocean's violent waves. The many stories of those individuals pushed by social and political circumstances to leave behind their native lands, their memories, their roots, and all their belongings to board the "boat of death" have yet to be told.
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