Around 55 asylum seekers, believed to be Afghan Hazaras, were aboard a vessel that sank near Christmas Island last week. They are now presumed dead, and if any of them actually are not, they soon will be.
The Australian government has indicated it will make no further efforts to retrieve the bodies of those who drowned. They will be left floating in the water, like a grotesque Keep Out sign. Our borders have become a watery graveyard of the desperate; a testimony to the heartlessness of our political leaders; an emblem of international embarrassment.
These 55 people are not faceless: they were sons, daughters, sisters and brothers with their own individual dreams and fears, their own personal histories. Would this kind of uncivilised indifference be extended to passengers of a luxury cruise liner, or a US military ship?
It is difficult to imagine another group of people who have their humanity stripped away in this manner. Our leaders have reduced their lives to craven sound bites, their persecution to a political problem and their dignity to a deprioritised task for operational forces. Australian politicians have become so obsessed with this issue that they have excised the mainland, detained large numbers of children (sometimes indefinitely), created a non-detention detention centre in a tiny Pacific island, and forecast to spend $2.3 billion over the next four year on the sorry mess that is offshore detention.