Friday, February 6, 2015

Christmas Island

Terribly confusing for potential visitors, I know, but there are actually two places in the world named Christmas Island, one in the Pacific that should really be known as Kiritimati, and which forms part of the island group called Kiribati but pronounced Kiribass; and then this one, which appears on my list of countries only because it technically is one, though too small and largely uninhabited to be of any significance, and governed as a part of Australia anyway.

The island sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean, about two thousand miles from the city of Perth, the capital of Western Australia State, but less than three hundred kilometres south of Jakarta, the capital city of Indonesia. This makes it quite illogical for the island to belong to Australia, but there is little likelihood of war over it, as there is absolutely nothing there of any use to anyone, unless you count the phosphates, which are fairly low-grade, and now so depleted by excessive mining that two-thirds of the island has been declared a nature reserve. Most of that mining was undertaken by the British, who brought indentured workers from China, Malaysia and Singapore to undertake it; and then completed by the Japanese, who occupied the island during World War Two. An indentured worker, incidentally, is a voluntary slave of the same rank as an intern or a sex slave today; indentured workers travel from their country to another in order to work there, and the cost of their travel and their daily board and lodging is paid through the work they offer; in effect they work for three years, and earn nothing but the right to stay on in the new country once the period of tenure is up and their financial chains are removed.

Much of the island has for years had little or no interaction with other human beings (this phrase is culled from the island’s own information website - see my next paragraph however for some apparent confusion in the Australian mind over the term “human being”), and has been largely left untouched; there are just two thousand residents, some mining what is left of the low grade phosphates, some dealing with the handful of tourists, mostly backpackers with tents as there are few hotels on the island and most of them are little more than rooms in people’s houses. The tourists come to witness the annual red crab migration and to disturb the beach-nests of the sea-turtles. Scientists are interested in the region for its diverse flora and fauna and for the raised coral atoll, which is the largest coral atoll above sea-level in the world, about a hundred and fifty square miles, amounting to two-thirds of the island, and now a wildlife sanctuary.

Why did Australia pay Singapore just under three million pounds in 1957, to purchase the island from the United Kingdom? Look again at the map and see how convenient it is, when you have boatloads of non-white asylum seekers sailing towards you, and you would rather stop them a few thousand miles away than have them enter your territorial waters and have to face the wrath of the international community when you treat them like aboriginals. What better than a virtually deserted island two thousand miles away, which you can set up as an Immigration Detention Center? - see my blog on Australia for more detail of this nation's antipathy to immigrants and general callous way of treating them; or click here to see how their own courts are defending their inhuman xenophobic policy

The history of Christmas Island as a place that does not well represent the idealism of Christmas at all - the gift of freedom delivered by Santa Claus down the chimney of love and charity and peace throughout the world - can be told in several calumnious episodes of Australian history. There was the controversy in 2001, when a Norwegian ship, the Tampa, tried to disembark more than four hundred asylum-seekers (mostly Hazaras from Afghanistan) that it had rescued at sea, and the Australian government stood so proudly and defiantly against them that they lost the general election; there was the Children Overboard Affair at the same time, for which much gratitude to New Zealand for welcoming most of the refugees; there was the legislation introduced by the Howard administration that officially excised Christmas Island from Australia's migrant zone, so that making it to Christmas Island did not count as making it to Australia, and so you could not claim asylum, nor even refugee status, though it did allow the Australian government to "repatriate" you to Papua New Guinea, and it did not affect the status of those who lived on the island, who remain "permanent residents of Australia" and have the right to full Australian citizenship.

So is Christmas Island an integral part of Australia, or is it a country in its own right? The answer is both - it depends on whether you are somebody that Australia wants, or does not want.

Marks For: 6

Marks Against: 6

Copyright © 2015 David Prashker
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