People seeking asylum are off trend. As the black and brown people on boats have stopped arriving on Australia’s shores, so has our interest in them waned. In commemoration, a boat-shaped trophy sits in Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office, inscribed with the words ‘I Stopped These’. Today, Australians seem preoccupied by the vaccine roll-out and allegations of rape in parliament. With a federal election on the horizon, people seeking asylum and refugees seem passé, a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
My ten-month-old daughter knows better than this. ‘Object permanence’ is her developmental recognition that people exist, even if she can’t see them. Celebrating the ‘end’ of the boats, thereby, is analogous to an infantile regression. The passengers have simply been pushed elsewhere; an estimated 14,000 now languish in Indonesian camps, even though many have long been recognised as refugees by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). ‘There’s a growing number of suicides in the shelters,’ journalist Nicole Curby1 told me. ‘What leads them there is a sense of desperation and hopelessness.’ Far from solving the problem, Australia has shoved it upstream. ‘Suffer or die there, not here,’ we seem to have said to people seeking asylum.