Deathscapes

A Boat Called the Janga 1j - Love and care for the stranger

Deathscapes

Christmas Islanders: Love and care for the stranger

A large group of people gather along the SIEV memorial which is comprised of a series of white poles of varying heights that snake around a parkland and edge of a lake.

[imagecaption] The SIEV X Memorial being erected by a group of volunteers, 2006. [/imagecaption]


‘Desert and island peoples know all too well that with one shift of the wind, you or I could be the passing seafarer, the shipwrecked sailor, the persecuted stranger. Understood in this way, the practice of hospitality, the host-guest relationship, is the central bond of civility—a reciprocal relationship, implying obligations on both sides, and based on an understanding that we are all, in certain circumstances, potentially “the other.”‘

Arnold Zable (2016)


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Despite the effort to recuperate them into a national narrative of Australian heroism, the efforts made by Christmas Islanders to rescue asylum seekers is perhaps better situated in the context of their own ambiguous status in Australia and in the broader context of philoxenia, the unconditional extension of hospitality towards strangers, theorized by the writer and activist Arnold Zable: ‘First the stranger is welcomed, clothed and fed, and given a roof over their head.  Only then are they asked questions; only then are they asked for their name and business.’

The Christmas Islanders’ spontaneous demonstration of love and friendship towards asylum seekers echoes many other acts of philoxenia:

  • Indonesian fishers who rescued SIEV X survivors after their long hours clinging to the wreckage in the water 
  • Betty Cuthbert , a former Olympic Champion who, from her wheelchair led protests and memorialisations for those lost in the wreckage of SIEV X
  •  Acehnese fishers who rescued almost 700 asylum seekers in 2015 and brought them to their village
  • Emilia Kamvisi a grandmother from Lesvos, Greece, nominated for the Nobel Prize for showing hospitality towards refugees
  • (Denmark), prosecuted for offering a lift and some coffee to Syrian refugees
  • Cédric Herrou (France), prosecuted for housing and helping refugees at the border
  • Maria Ochoa (Tucson), founder of a group which patrols the southern Arizona border helping those in need of water, food and medical aid
  • Domenico Lucano, Mayor of the small Calabrian village of Riace, where thousands of refugees have been welcomed into the everyday lives of the locals


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