When Theodore was born we were sent home with a package for new parents, in it was a dvd on water safety and introducing your child to water. The dvd helpfully goes through a number of different ways to make your house child safe when it comes to areas of water and also how to introduce your child to having it’s head underwater and swimming. It’s a simple, well structured instructional on how to be water safe and aware with a new child.
I write this because, as a new parent I’m more than aware that drowning in water is a major fear factor, and dvds & programs like this encourage me to respect that fear and to find ways to still encourage my child to swim.
Swimming is a huge part of the Australian lifestyle, my wife’s parents have a pool out the back of their house and she loves the water, my family’s regular holiday spot was on the beach. We are a nation surrounded by water, our borders are not made across deserts and sand but by ocean.
All the way through the year, and boosted over summer we are surrounded by tv adverts, poster campaigns, school programs all designed to help us be more aware of water safety. We are reminded that all pools need fences, all children should not be left alone around water, all children need to participate in a learning to swim program…
As such I can’t help but wonder if our natural, national fear/respect for water has been used in order to redirect our guilt, our responsibilities towards those who seek our protection by boat.
When discussing issues around refugees and asylum seekers the conversation seems to regularly get to the point where one person or another raises the “but there are so many people/children dying at sea, surely we need to stop that?” or “Why would a parent ever risk the life of their family or children by risking drowning?” (a side note to this, for the people who STILL bring up the “Children Overboard” story IT WAS A LIE)
We simply cannot think of anything worse than a water-related death for our loved ones, or for anyone else.
We cannot ever imagine a time or place where escape is the only real option, where the risk of the water or of anything that goes with it is a better option than anything else.
And this is where our fears and guilt are redirected. In the same way that we cannot imagine any fate worse than death at sea, (especially for children) we believe that almost any deterrent put in place to discourage getting on a boat is worthwhile. We also tend to lean towards deterrents that resemble punishment, boat turn backs and indefinite detention are seen as worthwhile and worthy attempts to deter people dying at sea.
And so we feel less guilty over detaining children and families, adults and the elderly in Nauru or Manus if it’s in the noble cause of stopping deaths at sea. Anything that happens in any of our detention centres, or as we turn boats back at sea is worth it if it causes less deaths in the ocean and we’re prepared to live with it whether it be sexual assault, maltreatment, withholding of human rights, abuse, depression, assault, midnight transfers of children and families or indefinite detainment.
Now, I’m not saying that the deaths at sea are not a tragedy, they are, but we need to be reminded that our policies have not stopped deaths at sea. It is suggested that 550 still died at sea during 2014 while the UNHCR reports that 54,000 people undertook sea crossings in the Southeast Asian region during the same time.
What I am suggesting is that our level of guilt, anger and unrest over our treatment of people seeking our protection is hidden/disguised/appeased behind the veil of our fear of death in water.
Don’t think that our politicians aren’t aware of our rational/irrational fear of drowning, don’t be so naive to think they aren’t using it to their own measures.
Perhaps it’s time that we stop allowing our fear of water to take precedence over our upholding of human rights and participating in the care of those seeking our protection and care.