Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Tragic Cost of Hope

Photo: ABC Online

Yesterday I watched in horror as details emerged about the Indonesian refugee boat that was dashed on the rocks off Christmas Island. To date, the death toll stands at 30 including four infants who didn't stand a chance.
The people of Christmas Island who watched the tragedy unfolding from shore thought quickly enough to throw life jackets in the water and shout directions to the disorientated, terrified people in the water. Their actions saved several lives, but residents are taking little comfort in their efforts after watching too many others die before their eyes.

Hearing the firsthand accounts from traumatised witnesses on the morning news, it struck me that nobody cared at that moment about whether or not those people 'should' have been on that boat approaching Christmas Island. There was no political right or wrong. There was nothing but sorrow for these people and for the faint dream they had which ended so tragically within metres of Australian soil.

It's hard to imagine how paying people smugglers to give you a place on an overcrowded boat with putrid living conditions and no guarantee of acceptance (or even survival) could be an investment in your future. Imagine leaving your relatives, your country, your language and everything you've ever known behind in the search for something better. How bad must life be for these people to take such desperate measures? It's an enormous leap of faith.

And their faith is placed in the hands of the people smugglers, who probably sleep well at night in the knowledge that they're helping people live their dream. It's hard to say sometimes whether humans deserve to be at the top of the swamp of evolution, or down the bottom for the apathy we show each other.

Every day I take for granted that my family and I will live to see another day. We will still have a home, each other, good food and our health. And if we get sick, we'll seek medical care. And in a week we will open presents, eat until we have to lie down and enjoy happy family time together.

It's a world away from those people on the boat, and yet I'm certain many of them had the same hopes and wants in life that I do. Hope for their kids to have a good life, and give the same to their kids. For fresh air and water, a safe place to live and a chance at a good job.

Tragedies like these should remind us that everywhere in the world there are people who are victims of circumstance. In their search for something better, or even for survival, they become another person's commodity, and ultimately their life becomes cheap.

Or in the case of the people on that boat yesterday, worthless.