A Series of Boats 2k - Letting Drown


Letting Drown

At a protest outside a detention centre, two people hold a banner that reads, 'Let Them Land! Let Them Stay! End Mandatory Detention. No Offshore Processing'.

[imagecaption] Northam Convergence, protest outside Yongah Hill Immigration Detention Centre, 2013. Photo: Alex Bainbridge for GreenLeft Weekly. [/imagecaption]


Recent cases of denying rescue or the ability to land safely to people seeking asylum by boat belong in a historical continuum of lethal indifference. In several documented cases, and perhaps in countless others that have not been reported, government or commercial vessels have refused to assist or respond to distress calls in order to evade the obligations and responsibilities that would be invoked through doing so. Often this has been at the expense of peoples’ lives. Even when the distress calls of refugees are considered legitimate, they may still be rendered as un-human subjects whose lives are not worth the inconvenience of saving.

  • In May 1980, a boat carrying Vietnamese refugees broke down and began to leak off the coast of Singapore. A Singaporean navy ship approached, but refused to tow the boat to safety or assist in repairing the engine. In the following days, other navy vessels surveilled the boat, but when it began to sink they stood by without offering assistance. Even after all the passengers were in the water the patrol boat refused them permission to board and pulled away. Several people drowned, though some survivors were later rescued by another vessel (Schaffer, 1980).


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