Who will watch the watchers? Report from the Chinatown store detective

Oh, hai. It’s been a while I guess. I got distracted studying maths in the library.

No, really!

I’ve started an MSc in social research methods, and it includes… maths. And it turns out I’m worse at maths than I remember. I remember being great at maths. But back then, computers didn’t exist, and neither did puberty. So I may fail quant. But qual is pretty sweet so far (leaving more time for maths homework). Here’s my ‘participant observation’/ethnographic homework for my qualitative research methods class. I decided to follow white people around London Chinatown.

First puns, now a poem – clearly, these are the results of post-traumatic stress disorder

My poetry hands are pretty arthritic by now, but this Race Relations Commissioner debacle has spurred me to erect the middle finger to scratch something out.  Blame Tulia Thompson, my erstwhile Creative writing classmate under the tutelage of Albert Wendt back in the far reaches of time – she has penned this, complete with links to this and Marama’s blog.  Race Relations Commissioner poetry contest IS ON.

It’s been five years since I last wrote a poem. Years of editing bureaucratic, legalistic or technical jargon into news-standard English has spectacularly flattened my field of written expression.  So tough titties if this shit ain’t pretty.

Joke news from New Zealand

(For Judith Collins & Susan Devoy)

Devoy’d of credibility

Someone confused multivitamins and multiculturalism, and unfortunately for us, it was Susan Devoy.

Full disclosure: I used to work at the Human Rights Commission, although not for the office of the Race Relations Commissioner. I also consider the former Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres a friend.  (However, shitloads of other people do too.  He’s super friendly.)

Poor Susan Devoy.  Once an ex-sports star merely reduced to hocking multivites; now a national joke upon her appointment as New Zealand Race Relations Commissioner despite her admitted ignorance of the state of New Zealand race relations.

Because no-one cares about squash, I can’t even come up with a sport metaphor to describe the epic degree of this failure.  And I’m pretty late to commenting on this, because I’m tired and on the other side of the world.  But I made a pun!  Worth sharing.

A more intelligent comment by a friend on Facebook sums it up far better: “There is not even a pretense of giving a damn. In fact it’s the opposite – it is an aggressive statement that there is one way now and if you don’t like it, don’t expect any respect, understanding or compromise.” (Thanks Claire Foster – and not even an ethnic minority!)

You know I can’t interdict your ghost ships, bro.

I see that NZIS is advising the government to build refugee detention centres, to prepare for the imminent mass arrival of asylum-seekers by boat.

Okay, so.  All the WTFs aside.  Immigration officials have been talking of the imminent mass arrival of asylum-seekers by boat since I was a Refugee Status Officer (ie, an immigration official).  Which was – uh – eleven years ago.  So far, no boat.

At the time, the Tampa crisis had exposed Australia as Evil.  New Zealand was the new buzzy destination for asylum-seekers stuck in Southeast Asian megacities.  But no matter where they thought they were sailing on those shitty fishing vessels, they never got anywhere near our shores.

And yet again, during a particularly evil period in Australian refugee policy, with the advent of offshore processing (in violation of international law), “our intelligence is telling us they might have a bit of [a] go down in New Zealand,” according to our Immigration Minister, Another White Guy.

I wonder if this intelligence is yet again, another successful viral marketing campaign by Southeast Asian people-smugglers.

Eleven years ago, the talk by various immigration officers was merely talk of talk. There were rumours of people-smugglers in Southeast Asia preparing ‘steel-hulled’ vessels to brave the high seas, to bring their precious cargo to the shores of Aotearoa. Rumours, I would wager, started by people-smugglers.

Because there was never any boat.

And yet, for some reason, said people-smugglers simply kept raking in the fat cash from desperate asylum-seekers for nought but the promise of a ride in a shitty fishing vessel, which more often than not ended up sinking somewhere off an Indonesian island where you would then drown (or end up in an Indonesian detention centre), and that only sometimes, if you were super lucky, ended you up in Australian waters, where you would then sink, and also maybe drown.  Or end up in an Australian detention centre. Or on Nauru.

And guess what?  Plenty of these sinking, drowning people on these shitty boats, ALREADY THOUGHT they were sailing to New Zealand.  Surviving ones told me so when I went on a resettlement mission to Southeast Asia.  Among them were educated, intelligent, map-literate people, who got on a tiny, crappy, leaky, broken fishing vessel with standing-room only, and were told ‘yo dawgs, next stop New Zealand!’ and they went along with it. Because what choice did they have? They’d paid their money. Refugees are fucking desperate.

So, despite the obvious lack of ability of any of these vessels to get to New Zealand, and precious few of them even to Australia, people still fork over giant stacks of cash and keep getting on those boats.  Because, I reiterate, refugees are fucking desperate.  And people-smugglers are fucking unscrupulous.

So I’m interested: Which option would pose a greater financial incentive to a people-smuggler?

– ACTUALLY save up the capital to invest in an expensive steel-hulled vessel, but only be able to charge passengers a premium once (since if it got to New Zealand it would probably be confiscated by the authorities)
– Pay the captain of a registered vessel enough money to be worth going to jail for if said captain successfully smuggles hundreds of people to New Zealand, once, in a daring George Clooneyesque rakish piratey manner.
– Don’t pay anyone anything and don’t spend any extra money. Instead, just TELL asylum-seekers ‘Oh this boat? Definitely going to New Zealand. Moar money plz’. Especially knowing that it worked eleven years ago just fine.