Hardly a day goes by now without news of another overcrowded and rickety boat sinking under the weight of desperate people having boarded in Indonesia and trying to reach Australia. Far from resolving the perennial problem of asylum-seekers, it is getting worse.
People-smuggling gangs use this country as a staging point for the final journey of their clients, some of whom end up dead and sinking to the bottom of the ocean because of the risky voyages, which keep the Indonesian and Australian rescue agencies on constant alert and missions.
Many of these people seeking hope and a new life in Australia – none of them, it seems, is keen to end their journey in our country – are fleeing persecution and war in their homelands, chief among them Iraq and Afghanistan. That they are prepared to hand over large sums of money that may be all they have and risk their lives to find peace and stability speaks to the indelibility of the human spirit.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard of Australia has sought to stop the boatloads of would-be refugees from reaching her shores, a politically sensitive topic among Australians. Ms Gillard has proposed that a regional detention centre be constructed to house the asylum-seekers, and suggested that it be located in East Timor. That plan has long since been knocked back by the leaders of neighbouring countries, including those here.
But with what is thought to be the largest number of asylum-seekers trying to get into Australia, this week, since Labor came to power, and a total of more than 7,300 having arrived in Australia so far this year, an added urgency to find a fix has developed.
Attempts to send the foreigners to Malaysia, where they would be processed, have foundered, after Ms Gillard’s government was not successful in passing legislation to that effect.
Now the prime minister is waiting for Angus Houston, the former defence chief, to report to her next week on solutions on how to end this problem. Mr Houston is over a panel of three people who are working to devise answers. We hope they will indeed be workable, and enough to deter people from embarking on these eternal life-threatening crossings.