Dear batchmates, schoolmates, brods, officemates, kabayan and friends :
15TH DECEMBER – Particularly during the Christmas season, it’s like rubbing rock salt over fresh wounds : you escape with nothing but your life, by the skin of your calcium-deficient teeth, from racial genocide in Iraq ( as a Kurd ) or intra-religious strife in Iran and Afghanistan ( as a non-fundamentalist Muslim ).
You temporarily gain a reprieve in a halfway inn, sometimes called a refugee processing / detention center, but it’s more or less a dreary, shapeless limbo, with days of waiting stretching to months or years, and a temporary host nation indifferent at best and hostile at worst.
You desperately grab at straws by availing of the services of persons best described as the scum of the earth, human smugglers that provide the crudest of sea transport, wooden outriggers with the smallest of motors and the barest of flooring.
After braving violent churling swells of inhospitable waters between Indonesia and Australia, you somehow manage to elude the vigilant eyes of the Royal Australian Coast Guard, only to meet a cruel end at the jagged limestone cliffs of the Christmas Island shore: not only is your puny vessel shattered, but you and the rest of your co-travelers meet your end at these vicious and unyielding rocks, rendering futile all your previous sacrifices and sufferings.
Facts are scant and the list of names of the departed will probably never be official, but the story is crystal clear : people who seek better lives without the protection of lawful travel and the aegis of governments that watch over its citizens are risking life and limb for very uncertain rewards.
The true tragedy lies in the realization that those who perished earlier this week were the lucky ones, those who were able to leave the persecution, whether religious, racial or economic, of their homelands.
For every Iraqi on that boat, there were probably hundreds more who endured state sponsored discrimination, first from Saddam Hussein‘s regime, then the US invasion supported adminstration that followed.
For every Afghan that boarded that doomed vessel, hundreds fell prey to the fanatical fundamentalism of the Taliban.
And Iranians who sought refuge from the seas either escaped the deadly Shiite-Sunni rivalry in their own country or the sporadic border warfare with Iraq as well.
Filipinos lead lives far from ideal at home, but we don’t suffer from a dysfunctional culture that allows people from one part of the country to decimate kababayan from another part; and we’re not burdened by intramurals from neighboring countries that cause injury and death to our citizens; and finally, we have religious leaders that don’t always lead by good sense and example, but they don’t ask us to conduct holy wars and massacres in the name of God.
For in our humble view, that is the root cause of all forced migration : lack or total absence of respect for human rights, the right to a decent living, the right to practice your own religion / beliefs, the right to form and raise a family, and most of all , the right to life itself.
It beggars belief that in this day and age, we have states, governments and regimes that build vast armies, wage wars across oceans, monopolize trade agreements and hold as hostage whole continents and economies and yet cannot understand the basic concept of life on our Lonely Planet : that respect for human rights is respect for humanity itself.
Two weeks ago was Human Rights Week, last week brought us the Christmas Island tragedy, but this week, and every week thereafter, might as well be NOel’s Count My Blessings Week forever :
I’m not a permanent resident (yet), but I got to a First World country LEGALLY and SAFELY.
I don’t have the PERFECT job, but I get to earn decent wages, and I even get to send home money as well. That’s infinitely more than any forced migrant can ask for.
I’m not always treated as a first-class citizen (and I don’t always ask to be welcomed with open arms), but at least I’m not persecuted for my race, color or beliefs, and my stay doesn’t hang on a thread.
I may not have reached the life others dream about, but it’s loads better than the life of tens of thousands of other migrants on frail boats, strange shores and uncertain horizons.
If you’re not busy today, please whisper a short prayer for the Christmas Island refugees, and join me in gratefully thanking God for the lives given us abroad or at home.
Thanks for reading, Maligayang Pasko po sa ating lahat !
- Number of asylum-seeker deaths may never be known: PM (theage.com.au)
- Christmas Island to reflect on tragedy (news.theage.com.au)
- “27 asylum seekers die as boat sinks of Australian Island” and related posts (online.worldmag.com)
- A year ago on Christmas Island (thepunch.com.au)
- Christmas Island shipwreck: 27 refugees die on rocks in tragedy (dailymail.co.uk)
- Heroics and heartbreak as Christmas Island toll climbs to 30 (theage.com.au)
- Boat crash forces look at Australia refugee policy (foxnews.com)
- Asylum seekers killed in boat crash off Christmas Island (aussiecriminals.wordpress.com)
- Amateur Video of Christmas Island Disaster (thelede.blogs.nytimes.com)
- Christmas Island detainees remember dead (news.theage.com.au)
- “Australia: boat carrying asylum seekers wrecks off Christmas Island, much loss of life” and related posts (refugeeresettlementwatch.wordpress.com)
- Who’ll blink first and score points off Christmas Island (thepunch.com.au)
- Unrest on Christmas Island as detainees protest over conditions (theage.com.au)
- Dozens feared dead in Christmas Island boat crash (marketwatch.com)