SAGA OF MS TAMPA COMES TO THE PACIFIC
SUVA: 2nd September -- The saga of the four hundred
or more Afghanistani refugees aboard the Norwegian vessel MS Tampa has taken an
interesting turn. Australia refuses adamantly to allow the refugees to
disembark in the most obvious place - tiny Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean,
Australian territory but also a frequent landmark for refugees heading away from
Southern Asia, the Indian subcontinent, or anywhere beyond.
Now, in a plan which has received the strong
support of Kofi Annan of the UN, equally tiny Nauru, along with New Zealand, has
offered to receive the refugees for the purpose of hearing their stories and
deciding their true status. A number of other countries have offered to
take in those who are assessed as bona fide refugees.
The Australian Bishops Conference, through its
President Archbishop Frank Carroll, has issued a statement to the effect that
'Australia should not be treating people seeking asylum in our country in this
manner'. The Archbishop went on to 'simply ask all Australians to adopt
the simple principle of placing the shoe on the other foot. Perhaps then a
more considered and different response would emerge'.
The scattered islands of the Pacific may not be as
close to the classic trouble-spots of the world as are those of the Indian
Ocean, but Nauru's offer is cause for reflection - what would be the reaction of
our island nations, faced with boatloads of refugees, especially if they were
all to be of a different Religious Tradition from the one which predominates in
our cultures? What has been the reaction in the past when this has
actually occurred as an uninvited event?
Not all the world's trouble-spots are sufficiently
removed to make the possibility remote - and we do have our own interesting
long-time history of boat-people in The Pacific anyway, do we