Asylum Seekers often find Sorrow

Cartoon by Steve Bell

by Giovanna Fassetta Guariento

The images of a small, rickety boat full of asylum seekers being thrashed by the waves off the coast of Christmas Island are unforgettable. As remarked by a witness who watched in helpless desperation, it was like being in a horror movie, minus the relief experienced at the end when the lights come back on and the audience is allowed to return home. It was a nightmare without the awakening, a tragedy that should not have happened, not to those who perished — the children, the women, the men — or those who were forced to watch from nearby cliffs.

The dead now number 48, but many more have yet to be accounted for. They were Iraqi, Iranian and Kurdish women, men and children who left everything behind in search of a better life. They fled from the destruction of war, from the festering wounds left by forced democracy, and from the unbearable struggle of making ends meet, towards what they imagined as a better future. Sadly, this tragedy is not the first, and will not be the last. It was however the most visible yet, because it happened before the eyes of the anguished locals on the shore, and millions more who saw the images in papers or on their television screens. Many similar tragedies happen every year less visibly though, in a hushed and subdued manner. No one knows exactly how many people perish on their way to the ‘Developed World’, but the number of people who are believed to have drowned in the past decade is in the thousands, and this only accounts for people lost while crossing the Mediterranean basin.

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