Voyage of the damned

Afghanistan: Persecution, isolation, coddling of terrorists propel asylum seekers.

September 01, 2001

THE WORLD is not prepared for the 438 desperate Afghan asylum seekers rescued from a sinking Indonesian ferry by a Norwegian container ship that was boarded by Australian commandos to prevent their being landed on Christmas Island.

Christmas is a speck of Australian territory more than a thousand miles from Australia, favored by people-smugglers as a dumping ground for contraband humanity.

Three nations, Australia, Indonesia and Norway, cater to their own people's baser instincts by refusing hospitality to those most in need. There, but for the grace of God, go other nations equally inhospitable.

But prepared or not, the world will receive more desperate refugees fleeing Afghanistan.

The ruling Taliban's determination to try eight foreign aid workers, two of them American women, for proselytizing Christianity, says something about the society. The strictures against education, jobs or visibility for women say more.

The asylum seekers, including children and pregnant women, are probably not political or religious but economic refugees. The regime blames that on United Nations sanctions flowing from Afghanistan's refusal to shut down Osama bin Laden's school for terrorists and extradite him to face justice for the bombing of two U.S. embassies in 1998.

The Taliban is threatening to ban its air space to foreign planes, most of them from aid agencies delivering food and medicine, unless the national airline's landing rights elsewhere are restored.

The regime maintains that Osama bin Laden is a guest and no terrorist.

Almost unnoticed, a U.S. federal grand jury in Manhattan indicted Abu Doha, an Algerian in jail in London, on charges he funded the bombing of Los Angeles airport in December 1999. That act of terror never occurred because Ahmed Ressam was caught smuggling the explosives into the United States. He was convicted and implicated Doha and bin Laden.

So there is no light at the end of Afghanistan's tunnel. Whether the treatment the world community provides for the 438 refugees off Christmas Island proves humane or inhumane, it will be precedent. More are surely coming.

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