Sovereign Borders: Detected, Intercepted and Removed 5c - Orange 'lifeboats': hi-tech cruelty


Orange ‘lifeboats’: hi-tech cruelty

[imagecaption] Video appears to show lifeboat being towed by an Australian vessel under Operation Sovereign Borders. This video was obtained by the ABC received from Indonesian sources, 2014. [/imagecaption]

‘Inside the orange boat it was closed, hot and very dark … No light. Very hot. When the driver opens the door, the water comes inside. We’re sick. Everybody sick; there was no air.’

Omar Ali, an Egyptian asylum seeker ‘turned back’ from Australian waters to Indonesia in 2014


Since resuming its cruel policies of interception at sea in 2013, the Australian government has also begun utilizing a variety of boats as weapons against asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia.

In 2014, the deployment of orange unsinkable lifeboats was publicised.  Their orange colour recalled that of many life jackets, yet the vessels incited controversy about the safety of the people forced onto them and the risks associated with tow-backs and turn-backs. In March 2014, the first hazy video showed an orange ‘lifeboat’ being towed by the Australian Customs patrol boat Triton. It was taken by one of the 34 asylum seekers on board, a group returned to the coast of Java, Indonesia.

In most mainstream media, these ‘disposable lifeboats’ were described as evidence of Australia’s humane treatment of asylum seekers: hi-tech, automated and sanitised solutions to the messy business of interception and refoulement.* They were highly publicised, described as ‘air-conditioned … unsinkable, orange capsules … built to international standards … [which] contained life jackets, food and water and a diesel motor capable of doing 30 knots.’ However, testimonies by those forcibly transported on these disposable, airless ‘lifeboats’ with a couple of small, high windows, tell a very different story, one of horror and fear for life that is in stark contrast to the sanitised and safe process implied in official discourse.


*Not all asylum seekers have been returned in the orange lifeboats: In some instances, asylum seekers have been handed over to the navy of their countries of origin, such as Sri Lanka; at other times, asylum seekers’ own boats are towed back, or are repaired by the Australian navy and then turned back.


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