There hardly seems to be a week without a report of migrants crossing the seas in the most dangerous conditions in the hope of a better future. Fleeing wars, political or religious persecution, extreme poverty, they risk their lives in makeshift embarkations.
Australia, which sees a regular influx of asylum seekers coming by sea from Indonesia, has recently put through legislative changes allowing such ships to be forced back, in an attempt to curb immigration, sparkling controversy in the international community as it violates some international maritime laws.
Under the Law of the Sea, the International Refugee Law and Human Rights Law, there is a duty to rescue ships and passengers in difficulty, which is often, by definition, the situation those migrants face. Smugglers are therefore now in the position where they have to gamble on whether whoever intercepts them will follow international law and take them in, or Australian law and will turn them away.
Unsurprisingly, they are not willing to take that risk with their livelihood, and they have adapted with creative “travel options”. Ironically named the ‘cruise ship’, migrants are now offered to be transported to Australia inside sealed shipping containers.
While it may sound safer than travelling on flimsy, overcrowded wooden boats, the conditions are no less life threatening. Shipped on international vessels, migrants may be unlikely to capsize and drown, but those containers are no less overcrowded than the boats previously used, and there have been several cases of death and serious illness due to asphyxiation and dehydration.
In addition, smugglers have been directing migrants to New Zealand under the misconception that immigration laws are more flexible there – although the country has also had to tighten their regulations – misleading desperate people into undertaking a dangerous journey with no certain outcome.
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