RelPacNews #118
 
SAGA OF MS TAMPA COMES TO THE PACIFIC
 
Julian Fox
 
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 not?