Our Refugees: The Tragedy at Christmas Island

Australia’s refugee policies are blamed for the deaths of at least 28 asylum-seekers whose wooden boat smashes into jagged rocks off Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean.

Residents of the rugged volcanic island, an offshore Australian territory, attempt to help, throwing life jackets and ropes into the boiling seas. But they are forced to watch, horrified, as the boat is dashed to pieces and its occupants are scooped up by massive waves and hurled against the limestone cliffs.

Christmas Island: A history

The rugged tip of an extinct volcano, Christmas Island is not inhabited until 1888, when Britain realised it contained rich phosphate deposits. The British, who brought in indentured workers from China and Southeast Asia to extract the phosphate, gave the island to Australia in 1958.

Situated much closer to Indonesia than Australia, the island – first sighted on Christmas Day 1643 by a British Naval captain, William Mynors – is still inhabited mainly by descendants of those Chinese and Malay mineworkers. But the 1,200-strong permanent population is dwarfed by the thousands of asylum-seekers housed in two detention centres, along with Australian police and immigration officials.

Kathy Marks

The Independent

16 December 2010

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