So, according to the Sunday Star Times, we’re up to three attempts in recent months by asylum seekers to get to New Zealand by boat. Well, sure, no boats have apparently even touched the water in these three “attempts”, and no people have actually climbed aboard these boats. But as the SST breathlessly explains, New
Zealand is being “talked up by people smugglers as a destination”. This scaremongering over nothing-actually-happening is embarrassing, shameful and, well, ridiculous. What’s more, it’s based on a pretty huge and glaring contradiction: The very same people smugglers who are on the one hand excoriated for their dishonesty and trickery are, on the other, apparently reliable enough sources when it comes to their plans for shipping people to New Zealand. So, which is it?
I’m not saying the broader story of mass migration and asylum seeking – which is going to worsen hugely in the face of climate change – isn’t an important one. It absolutely is. But there are ways of telling it that aren’t designed to play into our xenophobic tendencies. Last year, for example, the New York Times Magazine ran a long reported piece titled The Dream Boat about people smuggling through Indonesia (The link is here, but it may be behind a pay wall). It was an impressive piece of work that, not surprisingly, didn’t mention Destination New Zealand once.
That’s probably because, as our very own ambassador to Indonesia was quoted as saying in the SST piece (yes, way down toward the end of the story): “The only time I can think of that someone got from Indonesia to New Zealand in a leaky boat was Abel Tasman back in 1642 and it took him six months. … The boats these people-smugglers are using are mainly wooden, small, they’re not ocean fit and they’re overcrowded . . . it’s a pipe dream that they’re going to be able to get to New Zealand.” He says it’s just part of the smugglers’ marketing strategy.
But the story clearly played right into the hands of the Prime Minister, who responded pretty eagerly to the “revelations”, as the SST called them. Yes, he said, “it’s confirmation of what we see through our intelligence reporting which is that New Zealand is a location that’s been talked about.” Again, no actual voyaging going on here, but well, we are being “talked about”. What’s more, Key says, “it’s probably likely that New Zealand is moving up the list of desirable locations now.” Yes, it’s very definitely “probably likely”.
Can you imagine the feeding frenzy if any people do actually make it the 4,000 km in a leaky boat (cue Split Enz) it would take to get here? A full-scale invasion. Call the Navy, um, the two frigates. The Orions. The citizen militia. Can we not get a grip? If any even make it as far as our EEZ, can we just stop with all the meanness and help them, for goodness sake?
UPDATE 12 July 2014: Another story, this time in Stuff, about a boat setting out from Sri Lanka, uh, 10,000 kilometres to sail in a 12 metre fishing vessel, according to the article. Labour’s immigration spokesman, Trevor Mallard, said this: “They have a healthy sense of optimism seeing as they had roughly 10,000 kilometres to come and they should be praised for that but the chances are unlikely to zero.”