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Worse Than the Chance of Drowning

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Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn. ~ Robert Burns

I’ve had that line in my head since I was seventeen, when I was obsessed with writing down poems and quotes that rang true with my tortured teenage soul.

It’s been a mantra I’ve repeated to myself ever since, and over the past month or so it’s been going round and round my head on a daily basis.

You would have to be far removed from society to not notice what is happening in the world today. The biggest refugee crisis since World War II is in full swing due to a cataclysmic shift in the balance of power in the Middle East. Increasing conflict has seen millions flee their homes in search of safety. Yet those trying to cross borders are getting kicked by journalists, beaten by those they thought would help, turned back, shunned. Left to drown at sea.

Over the past few months, I have found it almost impossible to write or publish anything to ETG. Every time I sit down to do an article I’m awash with feelings of apathy towards the blog. Does it really matter where the hell I’ve been last week? Who really gives a damn that I walked the Larapinta Trail, went camping or visited an organic winery?

Yes, it was all fantastic, but there is so much more going on in the world I should be writing about. I may not be a political writer, or a compelling wordsmith destined for laureate greatness, but I do know I need to write something about the refugee crisis before I can write anything else.

The inhumanity shown towards these desperate, destitute people makes me weep with remorse for those who can’t, won’t, don’t. Who don’t see why they should care. Who don’t think about it. Who say it’s not their problem.

How can they be so blind?

The First World nations bomb the crap out of their countries for often questionable reasons and then refuse to deal with the fall out of their actions. Heck, only two weeks ago, London hosted the biggest arms fair in the world, where global arms vendors exhibited their newest and deadliest wares to world governments looking to upgrade their weapons.

Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade said, “The refugee crisis is showing us the human cost of war and conflict. It is shameful that the UK government is rolling out the red carpet for arms dealers and despots – helping to fuel conflict across the world – at the same time as it is refusing entry to refugees fleeing wars.”

From the comfort of their lofty ivory towers, politicians appear completely devoid of empathy. They think only of votes, polls and power. Humanity doesn’t feature on their agenda… until their spin doctor says it should.

I wrote the first draft of this article a few weeks ago. It was the night before Tony Abbott was ousted from the PM spot. The ex-Prime Minister, who touts his Christian values proudly, who made policies off the back of his religious beliefs, who has banned journalists from reporting on the state of the islands where asylum seekers are kept offshore from Australia, and passed a new law that sees medical staff and teachers on these islands who report abuse of any kind (including of children) face a potential prison term.

It is extremely frustrating to watch. More frustrating when politicians use the carnage as an excuse to back up their ‘stop the boats’ policies. A policy that sees overloaded dangerous boats turned back – some allegedly paid for by the Australian Government – instead of extending a helping hand to those in need. There is no concern for safety then, despite politician’s assertions the move saves lives.

No policy will stop the boats trying to come to Australia. As long as there is conflict and people desperate enough to risk their lives and that of their families for a better future, the boats will keep coming.

In Australia, there is a section of society that believes anyone entering the country by boat should be sent back to their home country – regardless of the state of it – or detained in an offshore prison for a few years (yes, that is what happens in Australia) until they can prove their worth. Most of the people in these offshore detention centres will never be resettled in Australia. Few of these asylum seekers would have known their fate and now the government is using them as pawns in a political chess game, making examples of them to show others who are thinking of coming to Australia by boat what could happen to them. The United Nations have spoken out about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, saying it violates the Convention Against Torture.

The new Prime Minister Michael Turnbull may have been urged to take over due to Abbott’s inability to act quick enough or show an iota of care towards these people fleeing from a country that is no more. There is a glimmer of hope for those seeking asylum in Australia, that they may one day be better looked after.

What never ceases to amaze me is the stance certain people have about refugees or migrants arriving by boat, or ‘boat people’ as they’re so charmingly labelled, yet only 200 odd years ago Australia was inundated by a whole ream of boat people who at the time were not welcome either. They were the first settlers. Anyone who is not Aborginal Australian is a descendant of an immigrant, or is an immigrant themselves. It reeks of double standards. Americans will think this all very familiar.

boat people cartoon

Bloody Boat People by journalist and illustrator Reuben Brand

Only a few weeks ago, at the peak of the Syrian refugee crisis, the image of little Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach appeared in every paper and social media channel.

It was beamed onto screens across the world.

His boat never made it to its final destination.

That terrible, sad, shocking image of Aylan Kurdi changed everything.

It made it real.

I sat staring at that little body for so long. Imagined what his family had to go through to get that far, and I doubt my imagination came close to the real thing.
No mother or father would put their child on a boat that could potentially sink unless what they were trying to get away from was worse than the chance of drowning.

How desperate must you be to be put in that position?

It was easier to deal with the woeful things going on in the world when I was nursing because I felt I was doing something truly meaningful with my life. For eight years of my career I worked in Paediatric Intensive Care where I saw some terrible things, but in that capacity you can do something about it. Usually.

I have seen more dead children than most people ever should or would want to. I can imagine all too well what my little ones look like dead, and sometimes I do. A photograph of them sleeping, which might raise ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ from others will make me want to delete it from my camera and memory banks because the image is how I envisage them dead. Yes, it’s terribly morbid, but it often happens with PICU nurses or doctors; when you’ve seen so many dead children it’s hard to shake their pale, still faces from your memory.

The harrowing image of little Aylan Kurdi will be just as hard to erase.

It certainly puts things into perspective.

When there are children’s lifeless bodies rolling with the waves on shorelines, choosing another inane travel photograph or writing about my charmed life seems incredibly vacuous.

There are a thousand things that matter so much more.


If you’d like to read more bouyant reports of the current refugee crisis, Brandon Stanton – the genius behind Humans of New York – is running a photo series alongside interviews of some of the refugees from Syria. Their stories are sad, but hopeful and often with happier endings than beginnings. You can read more on the Humans of New York Facebook Page.

*Lead image: Mstyslav Chernov via Wikimedia Commons


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