Flotillas of hope

IssueJune - August 2004
Feature by Stavros Georgopoulos

In August 2001, during an Australian election campaign, about 400 people seeking asylum in Australia were saved from a sinking boat by the Norwegian ship, the Tampa.

The Australian government forced the Tampa out of Australian waters through the use of commandos and the navy. Tampa followed the old unwritten law of the sea to save those in distress and the conservative Howard government ignored and denigrated this unwritten law.

Australia and the world were treated to the spectacle of innocent men, women and children saved by the Tampa being forced to leave Australian waters.

Some of the asylum seekers were accepted by New Zealand but the rest were sent to Nauru.

Forced to choose

Nauru is a central Pacific Alcatraz and it was established so that Australians and the world would forget about the 280 innocent people, including 80 children, imprisoned there. The Australian government established what it referred to as the “Pacific Solution” so that those seeking refuge would be “out of sight” and “out of mind”.

Nauru is an impoverished country that has been exploited by both Australian and British interests for its phosphate. Over 98% of its land has been mined and the defoliation of the island's vegetation has meant that Nauru can no longer depend on rainfall to provide for its water needs. The central Pacific Island has to use desalination plants to ensure drinking water for its 12,000 inhabitants.

It is also financially broke. The Australian government decreased its foreign aid to Nauru but promised them millions of dollars if Nauru allowed the establishment of the “Pacific Solution” detention centre. It forced an impoverished tiny island nation to create a prison for innocent people so that the indigenous Nauruans could survive.

Helping those in distress

The detainees at Nauru know they are isolated on an island gulag. They know that no media, human rights activists, visiting doctors or lawyers are allowed visas to visit them. Last year around Christmas about 45 detainees in Nauru went on a hunger strike for 29 days. Doctors were not allowed to visit them from Australia. Donations from

Australians had made it possible for a group of doctors to fly to Nauru to see to the health of those who were hunger striking. They weren't allowed visas, so could not fly there.

You can't fly to Nauru because you can't get a visa: visas are granted by the Australian government, having been “contracted” to do so by Nauru. However, you can sail there. On 20 June 2004, World Refugee Day, two boats from Australia and other boats from around the world will converge at Nauru.

The two Australian boats, Eureka and One Off will sail the 2,100 nautical miles from Brisbane to Nauru to bring hope and gifts to the refugees caged there.

Our flotilla of hope will also bring gifts and hope to the Nauruans.

We have not been granted visas so we will be Australian “illegal boat people” however we believe that our action is similar in spirit to the unwritten law of the sea to help those in distress. The inmates of the prison camp are in distress. They have lost hope that anyone will hear of their plight. Now they know we are coming, just as they did, on boats.

Carrying good intentions

The Australian government believes that because Nauru is so isolated that no one will visit it. Well, they are wrong. Throughout Australia, the Flotillas of Hope has garnered support from ordinary people who are distraught at the lack of compassion and the inhumanity shown by our elected leaders. They have provided gifts, funding, equipment and wishes for hope and peace to the project.

The crew of the two boats sailing from Australia are carrying the good intentions of many Australians. Sailing to Nauru is the only means of giving support to those imprisoned there. Our boats will carry satellite phones and laptop computers connected to the Internet. We will be able to send images and messages to the world. We will, with our boats and communications technology, not only bring hope to the refugees but also bring the global media spotlight to their plight.

If you are sailing in the Central Pacific, please join us in this global convergence of hope.

Topics: Refugees