THE tragedy that claimed the lives of at least 30 asylum seekers off Christmas Island on December 15 “should drive home the fact that refugees are human beings rather than inconvenient statistics, and that they risk their lives constantly in search of a safe future”, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia director Jesuit Father Sacha Bermudez-Goldman said.
“We’ve known all along that some boats don’t make it, that people die along the way. But even though we know this intellectually, we can’t empathise with a tragedy of which we are not aware,” Fr Bermudez-Goldman said.
“The difference with this event is that we could actually see the boat, we watched as it was dashed against the rocks and we heard people pleading for help.”
Fr Bermudez-Goldman said the tragedy reinforced the fact that people would rather risk death aboard a boat than face persecution in their home countries.
Jesuit Refugee Service is offering assistance to asylum seekers on Christmas Island, some of whom believe they had relatives aboard the stricken vessel.
The next Catholic priest scheduled to arrive on Christmas Island to provide pastoral services was due to arrive on December 16, and he had planned to hold several special Christmas celebrations with the asylum seekers.
The Australian Catholic bishops’ delegate for migration issues Bishop Joe Grech said the tragedy showed that seeking asylum was a very complex issue.
“We need to really respect that people are fleeing desperate circumstances and take into very strong consideration what has led people to make this decision,” he said. “Our hearts and prayers go out to these people and their families who remain. To make the arduous journey by boat and to lose their lives just short of safety is tragic.
“This just puts into perspective the incredible risks taken by people to escape their homelands. They make this journey with children, so they are obviously escaping very dire circumstances. They are not coming for a holiday.”
The asylum seekers who drowned were apparently mostly Iraqis and Iranians.
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