Finding Safe Harbor


Long used to illegal immigrants floating onto their largely unprotected northern shores, Australians were surprised at the rather brazen attempts of 100 Asians to land in the harbor city of Sydney recently.

Worried government officials note that the incidence of illegal immigrants boating across the seas from the Orient and Southeast Asia has increased by over 300 percent in the first half of this year compared to the whole of 1998.

They’re called “boat people” for their tendency to arrive in Australia in any old sort of craft, ranging from tugboats to fishing vessels to barely floatable boats powered by a mixture of engine and sail. These illegal immigrants often pay huge sums to black-market people—smuggling enterprises that have no thought for the welfare and safety of their charges. Boat people have been dumped on reefs, in crocodile-infested swamps or other unpopulated areas of Australia’s vast coastline.

Thus, the Sydney landing came as a surprise, as the smugglers have tended to steer clear of Australia’s populated east coast, let alone a major city such as Sydney. This is an indication that the smugglers are seeking to take moneyed Orientals into urban areas for faster assimilation into the well-established Oriental Asian communities in Australia’s chief cities.

Of increasing concern to the Australian government is the escalation of illegal drug smuggling which seems to be paralleling the increase in the arrival on their shores of the boat people.

Australia faces a daunting task in policing its 23,000 mile (37,000 kilometer) coastline. With a population barely reaching 18 million in a country larger than the United States, the limits to capital expenditure, labor and existing infrastructure mitigate against a fast solution.

As the International Herald Tribune recently reported, “There are good grounds for doubting whether either Coast-watch or the Customs Service is sufficiently well-equipped, in technology and in personnel, to know exactly who is landing on our shores” (May 18).

As population pressures, weather disasters and crop failure slow recovery from financial meltdown and continuing political turmoil continue to drive Orientals and Asians out of their homelands, Australia is increasingly seen as the “land of milk and honey.” The free advertising which Australia’s relatively affluent, easy-going lifestyle, vast empty spaces and largely unprotected shores will receive as a result of the mass televising of the Sydney-based Olympic games will only serve to foster the appeal of this vast, slimly populated island-continent to the huddled masses across the seas to the north.

Australia’s closest Asian neighbor, Indonesia, lies to its north at a distance less that that between its two major east coast cities, Sydney and Brisbane.

Should the traditional alliance between Australia and the U.S. falter, as America becomes increasingly isolationist, the great land of the South will find it impossible to mount any sort of reasonable military defense to stem the flow in the event that these increasing waves of boat people landing on its coasts become a rushing tide.