Pope Francis has described the sinking of a migrant boat off the coast of Italy as a “disgrace”.
‘‘The word disgrace comes to me,’’ the Pope said during an audience, calling for prayers on behalf of the dead and their families. ‘‘Let us unite our efforts so that similar tragedies do not happen again. Only a decided collaboration among all can help to stop them.’’
The ship carrying African migrants to Europe caught fire and capsized on Thursday off the southern Italian island of Lampedusa, killing at least 133 people as hundreds were dumped into the sea, officials said.
In fact, the boat people may have set fire to their own vessel:
It is thought that some of those on board set fire to a piece of material to try to attract the attention of passing ships, only to have the fire spread to the rest of the boat.
There is much to admire in this Pope and much to regret in this drowning. But the Pope’s reaction reminds me of the Jean Raspail’s brilliant and brutally confronting 1971 satire (or indictment),Â Camp of the Saints, describing how Europe, frozen with self-loathing, greets an Armada of one million boat people sailing in to help itself to the riches of the West:
Then, after a while, there were too many poor. Altogether too many. Folk you didn’t even know. Not even from here. Just nameless people. Swarming all over. And so terribly clever! Spreading through cities, and houses, and homes. Worming their way by the thousands, in thousands of foolproof ways. Through the slits in your mailboxes, begging for help, with their frightful pictures bursting from envelopes day after day, claiming their due in the name of some organization or other. Slithering in. Through newspapers, radio, churches, through this faction or that, until they were all around you, wherever you looked. Whole countries full, bristling with poignant appeals, pleas that seemed more like threats, and not begging now for linen, but for checks to their account. And in time it got worse. Soon you saw them on television, hordes of them, churning up, dying by the thousands, and nameless butchery became a feature, a continuous show, with its masters of ceremonies and its full-time hucksters. The poor had overrun the earth. Self-reproach was the order of the day; happiness, a sign of decadence. Any pleasure? Beneath discussion. Even in Monsieur Calgues’ s own village, if you did try to give some good linen away, they would just think you were being condescending. No, charity couldn’t allay your guilt. It could only make you feel meaner and more ashamed. And so, on that day he remembered so well, the professor had shut up his cupboards and chests, his cellar and larder, closed them once and for all to the outside world. The very same day that the last pope had sold out the Vatican.
Treasures, library, paintings, frescoes, tiara, furniture, statues â€” yes, the pontiff had sold it all, as Christendom cheered, and the most high-strung among them, caught up in the contagion, had wondered if they shouldn’t go do likewise, and turn into paupers as well. Useless heroics in the eternal scheme of things. He had thrown it all into a bottomless pit: it didn’t take care of so much as the rural budget of Pakistan for a single year! Morally, he had only proved how rich he really was, like some maharaja dispossessed by official decree. The Third World was quick to throw it up to him, and in no time at all he had fallen from grace. From that moment on, His Holiness had rattled around in a shabby, deserted palace, stripped to the walls by his own design. And he died, at length, in his empty chambers, in a plain iron bed, between a kitchen table and three wicker chairs, like any simple priest from the outskirts of town. Too bad, no crucifixion on demand before an assembled throng. The new pope had been elected at about the time Monsieur Calgues retired. One man, wistfully taking his place on the Vatican’s throne of straw. The other one, back in his village to stay, with only one thought: to enjoy to the fullest his earthly possessions, here in the setting that suited him best … So thank God for the tender ham, and the fragrant bread, and the lightly chilled wine! And let’s drink to the bygone world, and to those who can still feel at home in it all!
While the old man sat there, eating and drinking, savoring swallow after swallow, he set his eyes wandering over the spacious room. A time-consuming task, since his glance stopped to linger on everything it touched, and since every confrontation was a new act of love. Now and then his eyes would fill with tears, but they were tears of joy. Each object in this house proclaimed the dignity of those who had lived here â€” their discretion, their propriety, their reserve, their taste for those solid traditions that one generation can pass on to the next, so long as it still takes pride in itself. And the old man’s soul was in everything, too. In the fine old bindings, the rustic benches, the Virgin carved in wood, the big cane chairs, the hexagonal tiles, the beams in the ceiling, the ivory crucifix with its sprig of dried boxwood, and a hundred other things as well … It’s man’s things that really define him, far more than the play of ideas; which is why the Western World had come to lose its self-respect, and why it was clogging the highways at that very moment, fleeing north in droves, no doubt vaguely aware that it was already doomed, done in by its over-secretion, as it were, of ugly monstrosities no longer worth defending. Could that, perhaps, have been one explanation?
ASYLUM-SEEKERS have asked doctors for breast enlargements, IVF treatment and botox, according to the former director of medical health services for Australia’s offshore asylum processing network.
Ling Yoong, who helped set up medical services on Nauru and Manus Island and worked on Christmas Island, said the cosmetic operations were requested when asylum-seekers underwent other regular medical checks and necessary treatment.
The people-smugglers work in part through dramatic media events, framing narratives of despair, often fraudulent, to invoke compassion. In this emotional manipulation of public opinion they have a raft of enthusiastic, indeed loving, advocates in the Australian media and policy establishment…
To take almost random examples, last Thursday on ABC Local radio’s The Conversation Hour in Victoria, three guests – an educator, an author and a psychiatrist – were united in their view that the two main parties had presented election policies of determined “cruelty” to asylum-seekers, that the parties were peddling hatred and that the nation would be traumatised by such cruelty and hatred…
No one has helped mislead the debate more than [Julian] Burnside and [Malcolm] Fraser, both awarded a kind of Talmudic scholar status by the ABC and the Fairfax press. Two of the most preposterous egos in Australian public life, each garlands himself in the undeserved raiments of moral greatness….
Both Burnside and Fraser implied Australian moral responsibility for drownings at sea. This also is against all known facts. The Australian navy and Customs authorities are heroic in their devotion to saving lives at sea. This bizarre mindset reached a kind of apotheosis last week when Australian authorities were regarded in some circles as responsible for drownings that took place 50m – yes, 50m – from the Indonesian shore.
There are a series of facts that illegal immigrant advocates never confront. Among them: the trade now is hugely one of illegal immigration rather than refugee flows, as the rise of middle-class Iranians flying to Jakarta and buying passage on a boat evidenced. People are seeking an affluent life in Australia rather than shelter from persecution…
Similarly, those favouring soft policies offer no numerical limit on how many illegal arrivals Australia should resettle. Yet there are 40 million displaced persons in the world. If any of them who can physically get to Australia are allowed to stay permanently, why would there not be millions more coming, and indeed millions more on top of that pretending to refugee status?Â
The ABC reports two similar tragedies in one week, but uses different names for the victims.
Survivors from anÂ asylum seekerÂ boat that sank off Indonesia say the boat returned to land after it hit trouble in rough seas and sank only 50 metres from the shore.
Survivors of an asylum seeker boat that sank off Indonesia say Australian rescue authorities told them help was on the way, but it never came…
At least 28 asylum seekers have been found alive, but local authorities fear about 80 people were on the boat… The Australian Government says it was aware that an asylum seeker vessel had foundered in Indonesian waters close to West Java.
Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrision has again denied Australian rescue organisations delayed their response to emergency message from an asylum seeker boat of Indonesia. Mr Morrision has spoken to the media after his visit to Papua New Guinea last week and news of the sinking of an asylum seeker boat off Indonesia…
But when a boat sinks off Italy, those on board are described by the ABC not as “asylum seekers” but – more accurately – as migrants:
BARBARA MILLER: The boat is thought to have set sail from Libya, a routemigrantsÂ in their thousands risk each year. Some flee war or persecution, some simply yearn for a better life.
Italy has declared a national day of mourning after a boat packed with African migrants caught fire and sank… The boat had set sail from Libya, a route thousands of migrants take each year to try and reach the European Union…
The island of Lampedusa is closer to Africa than it is to the Italian mainland and each year thousands of migrants from Libya and other parts of north Africa try to reach its shores… Human Rights Watch spokeswoman Judith Sunderland agrees the European Union needs to do more to help migrant vessels in distress … The stream of migrants is a humanitarian and political problem for the Italian government.
Migrants who arrive in Italy are allowed to apply for asylum. Many are ordered to leave the country but slip away to become illegal immigrants…
Eerie vision has emerged of the wreck of an African migrant boat which sank off the coast of Italy…
Yes, the tragedies are the main issue here. But why the different language? Why the more emotive and less accurate “asylum seekers” when describing migrants trying to come illegally to Australia?
The language is important, because it conditions our response to such drownings. Is the response really – as is now suggested by some Italian politicians and religious figures – to stop the drownings simply by offering tens of thousands of illegal migrants safe entry? What are borders worth then?