The Italian solution.

Last night the ABC program, Foreign Correspondent, carried a remarkable and moving account of the work of the Italian Navy in rescuing ‘people fleeing conflict or economic despair in the Middle East and Africa’.

The Italian Admiral in charge of the operations in the Mediterranean said ‘We have the duty in these cases when we are at sea to intervene to save human life. If we are not at sea, then we can’t see what happens. We can close our eyes, turn off the lights and in that way, there’s no need to “turn back” the boats because they will die. We need to remember that International Rights exist. There are international laws that our countries have ratified’.

I wonder if the Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders, Lt Gen. Angus Campbell, has time to watch this remarkable account of humanity in action.

The Italian Navy shames our navy.   John Menadue

See link to program below.


John Laurence Menadue is the publisher of Pearls & Irritations. He has had a distinguished career both in the private sector and in the Public Service.

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3 Responses to The Italian solution.

  1. Avatar Kevin Bain says:

    After seeing this “good news story” from the ABC reporter, a couple of people said to me why can’t Australia be more like this kinder, more welcoming Europe. This is a completely wrong conclusion. I’m afraid I didn’t see an Italian solution, I saw a “saved from drowning” story and a “pursue a hopeless dream” story.

    The backgrounder report suggests the reporter was love-bombed with “ridiculously warm…hospitality”, fine food and wine, and nourished by the gratitude of those saved from a near-death experience. And on landing, there’s lollipops and clowns for the kids. So there’s probably a public relations story there too.

    It is a lesson in the seductive power of a feel good story on TV (not radio, not print) which omits context by focusing on a moment of relief in a grim marathon which will be never ending for many refugees. The seduction works here because so many of us are disturbed by the national shame of our own policy, and are searching for something, anything which gives reassurance that it doesn’t have to be like this. We certainly need inspiration but I think it’s the same over there as here: from actions below, not from governments.

    The Der Spiegel article cited by Tony above shows the Italian Navy’s efforts are in response to EU shame when 366 people drowned when a ship sank near Lampedusa last year. Post-rescue, it reports continued grubby behaviour by police and officials, as well as primitive services and broken promises by government. One night in a hotel room, then on the streets eating garbage is not what the refugees expected. “Why do you Europeans do this to us?” asks Hadish from Eritrea. “Aren’t we human beings?” Here are echoes of the anti-slaver Josiah Wedgwood putting on his plateware another African man who says “Am I not a man and a brother?”

    To be fair, she does link to another article which reports that the rest of the EU will not fund the Mare Nostrum operation and it is about to be closed down. The suggestion is that declaring that refugees who made it into international waters would be picked up by the Navy has led to a tripling of numbers over the past year. Fortress Europe is the agenda for EU, and the Greek government’s new 10.5km barbed wire fence along the Turkish border, has sent people to smugglers and to danger at sea. Not so much a contradictory policy as a cynical policy: floating corpses can’t be ignored, at least where they’re noticed.

    Those who face life or death choices must do what they have to do, but I think about what might be the foreign policy application of the “exit or voice” framework of Albert Hirschmann ie. the forces for positive change in the “leaving” countries are reduced and the rulers are strengthened when the victims and potential opposition depart. In 2012 the former president of Myanmar said to the UN who raised the rights of the Rohingya Muslims: “some other country must take them all”. “The solution is at home” is not an answer with a credible record, but is there another way to channel opposition other than to facilitate exit? A start would be finding a way to dispel the utopian dreams of the West held by many intending refugees.

  2. A pearl of a program indeed. Inspirational.

  3. Avatar Tony O'Connor says:

    This makes more sombre reading – there is no country in Europe that is coping well with asylum seekers at present.

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