The Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne called on the government of Australia to set aside politics and take in 460 asylum seekers aboard the Norwegian ship Tampa.
The refugees were rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry in late August by the Norwegian ship. The government of Australia then refused to allow them refuge, and in early September detained both the vessel and the refugees.
“Australia must be prepared to play its part in alleviating this obvious human misery,” Archbishop Peter Watson said. “However they got to this position is beside the point. They are desperate people escaping from abuse of human rights.”
At almost the same time the plea was made by Archbishop Watson, the Center for Seafarers Rights (CSR), based in New York also urged Australia to give the people safe haven.
In a letter to the Australian Prime Minister, Douglas B. Stevenson, director of the CSR, said that a “cherished and protected maritime tradition at sea, is a mariner’s obligation to go to the aid of all persons in distress at sea, without regard to their nationality, status, or religion.”
In his statement, Archbishop Watson noted that Australia was able to handle the survivors. “We are not being flooded by refugees. Other nations may be. We are not.”
He noted that there are more than 22 million people identified as “people of concern” by the United Nations, including 12 million refugees and seven million internally displaced people. “Australia must be prepared to play its part in alleviating this obvious human misery,” he said.