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Towback for refugees is not new. Intolerant regimes have always needlessly harassed and persecuted minorities.

Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott would no doubt approve the actions of the Turkish government during WW2 when it denied transit to Polish Jewish refugees on the basis that they did not have the correct paperwork and were therefore ‘illegals’ to coin the Lib/Nats inaccurate and vilifying terminology for asylum-seekers.

Huge numbers of Polish refugees were generated by the Nazi/Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 which commenced WW2. Having survived Luftwaffe strafing of the columns of refugees walking out of their ruined cities, the Polish displaced then sought shelter all over the world. 120,000 were accepted in Hungary alone and none rejected by that nation.

Turkish Towback

Thousands of Polish Jews sought to travel to Palestine, but were prohibited from transiting through Turkey because the Turkish authorities noted they did not have the correct paperwork (namely a letter from the British government authorising entry to Palestine).

Scott Morrison and Tony Abbott are big fans of paperwork, insisting Hazara from Afghanistan should be carrying valid Australian entry visas despite the fact that the location Australian embassy in Kabul is kept secret on security grounds and cannot issue visas anyway.

The Australian Embassy in Kabul operates from a number of locations that are not publicly disclosed due to security reasons.

The Australian Embassy in Kabul has no visa function. For visa information, visit the Australian High Commission, Islamabad, Pakistan.

The Turks, anticipating Lib/Nat Coalition approval from Tones and Scott, then instituted a tow-back policy for refugees, dragged the refugee ship out into the Black Sea with its 769 human cargo, where it was then sunk by a Russian submarine. All died except one. One can only say that gutless illegals get what they deserve.

British Tradition

Scott and Tony may also be gratified that the British government described the Jewish refugees as ‘illegals’ and that the British expressed ‘security concerns’ about the refugees. The British government was offended that any person, even its own Ambassador in Ankara, could object to their treatment of security-dubious illegals on spurious humanitarian grounds. As one Colonial officer complained:

… the first occasion on which … the Turkish Government … help in frustrating these illegal immigrant ships, and the Ambassador then goes and spoils the whole effect on absurdly misjudged humanitarian grounds.

Colonial Secretary Lord Moyne, passe Morrison, continuously asserted that the prime rationale for turning back every Jewish refugee was security concerns, specifically Nazi agents secreting themselves among refugees (a tactic also approved by John Howard), although not one instance was ever found.

The British High Commissioner, MacMicheal, endorses Tony and Scott’s arguments that the refugees are unproductive persons and a drain on State resources, saying they would be an unproductive element in the population.

Scott and Tony likewise approve of the forced takeover of the Struma by Turkish authorities. Said the only survivior of the sinking David Stoliar:

some of the passengers … came to blows with the police, but the police overpowered them and there were some 100 to 200 policemen.

Naturally, MacMichael held the view, shared by many of his government colleagues and Scott Morrison, that if a small number immigrants were permitted into Palestine, the floodgate would open and completely undermine our whole policy regarding illegal immigrants.

Scott and Tony would also approve that the British acted in contempt of international obligations, in the Brits case the Balfour Declaration, in refusal to honour the immigration of Polish Jews to Palestine.

Finally, Scott, a master of double-talk on International Refugee Law, would simply love the gobbledegook generated by the British on the status of Jewish arrivals in Palestine and indeed the entire paranoid and obfuscatory logic of British policy in this matter. As the pro-Jewish website notes:

‘The Jewish immigrants who made it to the Jewish-settled area of Western Palestine under the status of illegal were in fact placed in a detention camp on arrival. Only if they passed the careful security check and were adjudged not to threaten the overriding principle of economic absorptive capacity would they be released. And then they would be “set off”–deducted-from the quota.. This meant that they were in fact not illegal at all, since they had merely taken some of the inconceivably few Jewish places that the Arabs had agreed to.’

The Ship

[NB Much text in this section cut-n-pasted from linked articles]

The ship carrying the Polish refugees was called the Struma. The full story of that vessel is told here. What follows is an excerpt. Similarities to Indonesian fishing vessels are obvious:

The Struma was unsafe (having engine troubles), horrifically overcrowded (built for 100, 770 persons were aboard), and lacked adequate sanitary facilities. Despite engine problems, it reached Istanbul on December 16, 1941. There, the passengers were informed they would not get visas to enter Palestine and, furthermore, would not be permitted entry into Turkey.

The boat was kept in quarantine in Istanbul’s harbour for more than two months. Turkish authorities denied the passengers permission to land without British agreement to their continued journey to Palestine. On February 23, 1942, the Turkish police towed the boat out to sea and abandoned it. The next day, on February 24, the boat sank, torpedoed by a Russian submarine.

More information on the Struma is here. Similarities to refugee voyages from Indonesia to Australia abound. For example, passengers had paid hefty sums to people smugglers, the passengers were not permitted to see the vessel before the day of the voyage. They discovered that the boat was a wreck, with extremely cramped sleeping quarters, only two lifeboats and a faulty engine which gave out several times after setting sail. Passengers imprisoned upon the Struma in the port in Istanbul began to suffer mental problems.

Just as Indonesia has firmly stated they will not permit tow-back, despite Coalition obfuscation on this point, the Romanians did not permit the Struma return to port of embarkation.

You Did WHAT?

Many British were ashamed of their governments actions in refusing entry to the Poles.

On June 9, 1942, Lord Wedgwood of the British House Of Lords opened the days proceedings by alleging that Britain had reneged on its commitments. He stated with bitterness:

I hope yet to live to see those who sent the Struma cargo back to the Nazis hung as high as Haman cheek by jowl with their prototype and Führer, Adolf Hitler

Anglo-Jewish poet, Emanuel Litvinoff, serving in the British army at the time, wrote a scathing poem, mourning the loss and betrayal of the Struma. Having volunteered in the British army to fight the Nazis, he now called the British khaki he wore a badge of shame.

Morrison, if true to form, would no doubt see these as the tired, predicatable criticisms of lazy, arrogant elitists.

Turkish Rationale

The Turks were by no means passive observers in the affair. Though the Brits denied visas for Palestine, the Turks prohibited the Polish Jews from proceeding overland. The full rationale for Turkish denial of overland entry to the passengers of the Struma is not yet known because the Turks have not opened their archives on the matter but some superficial evidence suggests that they too may have been worried that about a putative flood of refugees should they permit this group through. As Ira Hirschmann notes in her book, Life Line to a Promised Land (p.32)

The gateway of escape through Turkey had been technically open since 1941 to a small number of refugees moving by rail from Bulgaria. In order not to overload their trains, the Turks had made a restrictive limit of sixty persons to be carried each week from each of the
Axis satellite countries –Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria.

Like Scott Morrison in his perenniel dog-whistle to Sydney’s West, the Turks were more concerned about the inconvenience of overcrowding on their train system that Jews being liquidated via Zyklon-B. Its nothing personal. Its just that we’re full.

Struma v. Tampa; Abbott v. Fraser

The TowBack of the Struma was a notorious and notable incident of callous disregard for civilian life perpetrated by the British with Turkish force. It is illuminating to me to note how the self-serving arguments of the British are so exactly mirrored in the mouths of Morrison and Abbott and the Lib/Nat Coalition generally.

The Struma incident is well-remembered by Israel and the Jewish community as an act of betrayal, even murder, and disgusted principled contemporaries in Britian and elsewhere.

Now the British have this excuse: Jewish arrivals in Palestine were resisted by local Arab populations and neighbouring Arab states. It was fair of the British to consider this as a security factor. Morrison and Abbott have no such excuse. Note that the security issue the British faced is reaction to refugee arrivals in the local and neighbouring populations and not a security issue relating to the refugees themselves. Morrison, Abbott and the Coailition keep impying or stating that refugees themselves are a security risk because they are terrorists, violent or prone to sexual predation.

The supposed security concerns Morrison and Abbott cite are non-existent. The Australian Navy has indicated unambiguously through unofficial channels (as they cannot officially state a desire to refuse orders or potential orders) that they do not support TowBack. This is a clear indication that there is no security issue with asylum-seekers. If there was a true security issue the Navy, as always, would professionally respond. Who could doubt otherwise ?

Furthermore the fear and suspicion in the Australian community toward asylum-seekers has been inflamed and nurtured by Morrison and Abbott. While Australian xenophobia is always latent it can be overcome by principled bi-partisan leadership as proven by Fraser and Whitlam when Fraser admitted 150,000 Vietnamese to Australia during the late 1970’s to early 1980’s. (55000 as boat people, 95000 through family reunion). Though Fraser’s policies on asylum-seekers were far from fully idealistic, they are light-years ahead the xenophobic swill expectorated by Morrison and Abbott today.

A 1975 Gallup poll found that 54% believed Vietnamese refugees should be allowed to settle in Australia, while only 33% did not. Of those in favour, 61% were Coalition supporters. This was undoubtedly a result of the fact that Malcolm Fraser’s Coalition government argued that Australia had a moral responsibility to take refugees because of its involvement in the Vietnam War. The RSL pressed for more liberal entry criteria and criticised media attacks on those arriving by boat

The current Lib/Nat xenophobic impulse is tawdry, dangerous and getting worse day-by-day as the ALP follow them into this particular sewer.

What is the more distressing is that Morrison and Abbott are the most public of MPs about their supposed Christian values and yet enunciate the most inhumane policies without embarrassment and intentionally fuel fear and suspicion of defenceless persons.

Australia deserves better.


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