In calling for source countries to be helped to patrol their own waters to minimise the exit of boats, John Hewson (“Asylum policy is a disgrace”, Canberra Times2, 17 Dec 2013, p1) forgets the difference between refugees in transit through Indonesia and those suffering suppression and persecution in their own country from which they wish to escape. Here the imposition on them is designed to block all escape forcibly. Australia is providing military patrol boats for the Sri Lankan government to take this on, creating Australia’s role as that of jailer by proxy and, despite Sri Lanka’s fortress of secrecy, it is known that torture and executions are the norm.This system must lead of course to fewer of these fugitives on the high seas for Australia to deal with and Abbott can point to lower boat figures and fewer potential people smugglers to this extent. Dr Hewson suggests that the patrol boat practice should be extended to other source countries from which asylum seekers seek to flee. In future history of democracies, could Australia live down the disgrace of supporting all despots in the first place?

– Dr Helen B. Wiles, CLA member, Narrabundah ACT

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