SUZANNE HARRINGTON: Thai rescue response highlights our hypocrisy

How we love a story of heroism, guts, sacrifice, and endurance. Already, before the mud has dried on those twelve Thai kids, a film of their rescue has been announced, writes Suzanne Harrington

The bodies of three young children were recovered after a boat carrying 120 migrants caught fire in the Mediterranean sea. Photo: AFP

Their story captured the world’s attention, making us hope with long distance fervour that they would somehow be squeezed intact from Mother Earth, still breathing. How collectively relieved we felt when they were.

It is a human story which contains everything to hook us — danger, uncertainty, fear, hope, bravery, ingenuity, unity, and a happy ending.

Rescue co-ordinator Narongsak Osatanakorn called the boys “a symbol of unity among mankind”, adding how “everyone worked together, regardless of race and religion, as the goal was the rescue.”

The boys, back with their loved ones, can now live happily ever after. The end.

At the same time the fate of those Thai children was causing the world to bite its fingernails, two empty rescue ships were being detained in port in Malta, not allowed to leave.

This meant that between June 19 and July 4, a conservative estimate of 483 people died in the Mediterranean. Drowned. Many, many more than 12 of them were children and babies — yet their stories are not news.

They are not reported. They do not make a nail-biting story.

We don’t even call them people, never mind think of them as children. We call them migrants, asylum seekers, illegals, undocumented.

We call them a crisis, as though the crisis is ours, rather than theirs, as they flee war, hunger, persecution.

We have been conditioned to think of them as ‘them’ and of us as ‘us’, just as many white Americans now call brown toddlers ‘aliens’.

So far this year, there have been 1,400 deaths in the Mediterranean. This is a huge number of preventable deaths, but a tiny number of people for the EU to absorb alive.

Current Italian and Maltese policy — which is spreading throughout Europe — is to let people die in the water rather than allow them to be saved by rescue boats, as a deterrent to others thinking of coming.

Don’t bother, because we’ll let you drown. That’ll teach you to try and escape war and persecution.

Yet we love heroism, bravery, going for broke. Nobody puts their child in a boat unless the sea is safer than the land.

Nobody leaves their life, their home, their loved ones, for danger, uncertainty, possible death, unless the alternative — staying put — is even deadlier.

We value bravery? Pluck, resilience, super human endurance? It’s happening daily, a lot nearer to us than a cave in Thailand, yet because of the narrative we are fed about ‘them’ we don’t want to know. We don’t want to rescue them.

We don’t want to watch a film about them, we are not invested in their happy ending. Instead, we turn away, as their ending happens brutally and en mass in our sunny holiday sea.


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