Over the last month in the oh-so tolerant land of Australia, talking about asylum seekers has been all the rage. More than that, chins have been furiously wagging about our fearless PM's response to the 'boat people' who have been holed up in the Oceanic Viking off the Indonesian coast.
The Oceanic Viking has been a blight on the PM's seeming cruise to the next election while providing much needed respite for an opposition under the harsh light of the ETS issue (which isn't getting hotter according to certain factions in the Liberal Party). Whereas our previous PM, John Howard, had a consistent line on the dealing of asylum seekers (wrong or otherwise), the issue has made Kevin Rudd look like a man with his pants down.
During the three week stand-off which ensued, his government has tried to broker deals with several pacific nations including New Zealand to try and find a home for those aboard the ship. But, oddly enough, nobody wants to handle the political hot potato which has fallen into Rudd's lap. While 22 asylum seekers accepted an initial offer for what the government calls 'rapid resettlement', 50-odd seekers still remained on the boat, wary of what the government is was peddling (rumour has it with good reason too).
It was a month of high drama off the Indonesian coast and we still have 70-odd people in an Indonesian asylum detention centre uncertain of their future. For all the politics, all the testing of international protocol we're still NO CLOSER to finding a solution to what is already a humanitarian crisis.
The million dollar question is though: what's the solution?
Of course, all of the politicians know the answer to the question but afraid of the time and effort that it would take to implement. It's 'simply' about improving conditions in the countries from which the people are seeking asylum from. This goes for our European friends as well dealing with an influx of immigration from Northern Africa. While governments around the world spend billions 'protecting' our borders from the 'immigrants/boat people' (like they're invading, wtf?) foreign aid has not increased in any significant manner since the mid-90's, and meanwhile Bob Geldoff keeps on yelling at the top of his lungs.
It seems to me, that if you were trying to stop the supply of something you'd try and stop it at the source. That is to say, if asylum seekers had little reason to leave their country and risk a dangerous journey across open water to a country on the other side of the world, they probably wouldn't. If that's a simple matter of logic, then why has their been increased funding for border protection but no significant amount of money going to the UN to help speed up the resettlement of political refugees?
Perhaps it's time we stared ourselves in the mirror and asked that question.