Forest of arms tells of great relief

New arrivals on Christmas Island taken to the detention centre yesterday.The sun is not yet risen over the steamy forests of Christmas Island, the ocean is slate and just below the township, two blue fishing boats rise and fall on the swell.
Nanjing Night Net


Last night, as the island closed down to sleep off the weekend, there was only one. It had brought 53 Sri Lankans, arriving early yesterday afternoon, and they had been taken off the sea and bussed away to the detention centre.

I wave, and suddenly a forest of arms is waving back from the deck of this new arrival from the Indian Ocean. Here is the latest in a little armada that is crowding this island, hardly more than a speck in a wide, wide sea.

The boat and its passengers had undertaken an epic voyage. Twenty one days; more than 2700 kilometres, assuming its helmsman had managed to steer a straight course. Adventure books would have been written about such a voyage in the past, but the frequency of such perilous passages now hardly raises an eyebrow on Christmas Island.

Food and water on such a small vessel with such a large passenger list must have been in short supply. Those of us on the island denied access to the detention centre and the asylum seekers themselves cannot know the deprivations they might have suffered.

Those waving arms, anyway, told of great relief that the travellers had finally reached safe anchorage. In the night, they had been shepherded into harbour by a navy patrol boat. This morning, two of these great grey warships stand off the tiny port of Flying Fish Cove, their bulk dwarfing the asylum seeker boats.

Since last Thursday, five smugglers’ boats – four from Sri Lanka and one from Indonesia – have made it to the port, carrying about 300 seekers of asylum. Another reached the Cocos Islands, 1000 kilometres to the west, and yet another reached Ashmore Reef, 2000 kilometres to the north-east. In a week, two have failed to complete the journey, sinking with the loss of about 100 lives far to the north of Christmas Island.

By 7.25am, the overworked Christmas Island barge was pushing through the water to begin the task of offloading the Sri Lankans. There are 39 on board, all men, including two “unaccompanied minors” – boys aged under 18.

They will bring the numbers crammed into the island’s detention facilities to about 1600; 100 over the official capacity.

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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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