Thursday 16 December 2010

Boat people

The deaths of at least 28 people, and possibly many more, in the shipwreck on Christmas Island is a reminder of the lengths to which people desperate to leave their country will go. A flimsy wooden boat carrying suspected asylum seekers from Iraq and Iran was dashed onto jagged rocks in very high seas.

More than forty people have been rescued, but it may be that the boat was carrying more than 100. It is believed it may have been on its way from Indonesia to Australia. The engines seem to have failed, and the craft was quickly smashed to pieces. It seems to have managed to evade detection and the alarm was raised only when local residents heard screams from the passengers.

Perhaps the biggest unofficial exodus by sea ever mounted was by the Vietnamese boat people. During the late 1970’s, an estimated 2 million fled South Vietnam as the Communists took over.

Apart from the usual hazards of taking to the ocean in small and often unseaworthy vessels, they had to run the gauntlet of pirates, and even if they made it to refugee camps, they were often ill-treated there too. An estimated half million died.

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