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How many of the 1500 asylum seeker lives lost at sea since 2001 could have been saved?
Zahra (6), Fatima (7) and Eman (9) - the daughters of Sondos Ismail and Ahmed Alzalimi -  three of the 146 children who lost their lives when the vessel that has become known as SIEVX foundered in international waters en route to Christmas Island on 19 October 2001.
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11 September 2002

Today an excerpt from (retired) Brigadier General Adrian D'Hage's talk to ChilOut in Paddington on Monday night and Eva Sallis' AAR newsletter, both referring to the SIEVX Affair:

  • Adrian D'Hage:
    Instead of promoting fear of difference and resultant loathing in the community, instead of implying that refugee boats could have been sent by Osama bin Laden, our leaders, including our church leaders, should be finding ways to promote tolerance of the various paths of religion.

    And when we look back on the deaths of 353 desperate asylum seekers, including those three little Iraqi girls fleeing a tyrant that the US and by implication Australia has, in years gone by, propped up and supported - it took their deaths to prompt us to reflect that we are dealing with people rather than a problem.

    What does that say about the leadership in this country and countries in our region? What does it say about us as Australians? We are not going to change the US overnight, but we can do something about this appalling, unworkable, compassionless policy against three small Iraqi girls and hundreds of others.

    We can ask ourselves if those Iraqi kids were our three small daughters, would we find the money, sell everything we had and risk everything to give them a chance at life. The problem is that even if they beat all the odds, Australia and 71% of us will do everything we can to deny them that chance. We can change that. We must change that. And with the help of organisations like ChilOut and Racial Respect, we will.

  • Eva Sallis:
    We are approaching the anniversary of the death of 353 people, most of them women and children, from the boat known as SIEVX. For anyone who wants to know the complex involvement Australia had, and the full implications of the whole SIEVX story, go to its excellent dedicated website at

    This tragedy and most Australians' collective non-reaction galvanised many people, and can be marked as the trigger for the formation of Australians Against Racism and I suspect many other actions and groups. These deaths, more than any other factor, created the 'deterrent' the Government wanted. Furthermore, changes to Migration laws, particularly the restrictions on family reunion under the new temporary protection visa generated the frantic attempts by women and children to make the dangerous journey. The mean and petty bullshit that has obscured the significance of this, and the outright lies and cover-ups of the Government in the affair cannot erase the fact that Australia generated some of the preconditions that made it happen, and Australia's current Government benefitted from it. And the Australian people, groomed to consider Iraqi and Afghani people as 'others', as 'different', and, let's be frank, encouraged to see them as inferior, were quiescent, even endorsed evil little spiels that blamed people arriving by boat, the dead and the survivors, for 'putting their children in situations of risk'.

    Australia, regardless of its (hotly disputed) role in the sinking of SIEVX, is absolutely implicated. When someone knocks at your gate asking for your help, and you, not wanting people like them in, ignore them, and they are killed while knocking - you are morally implicated. Howard's repeated claim, wrongly, that the boat went down in Indonesian waters and his formal expressions of condolence as if this was a remote tragedy that had nothing to do with Australia, are an attempt to obscure or erase this basic truth from our consciousness.

    Many exceptional things are happening among Australia's diverse peoples to counter all this. We are stronger now than we were a year ago, if perhaps disillusioned by how slow change in public opinion has been. I strongly encourage you to try to take your persuasive, wonderful stories, films, exhibitions, public talks, refugee stories and eloquent arguments out of our comfort zone, and reach those who believe the potent myth of border protection and feel threatened by Iraqi and Afghan families. How? Accept that uncomfortable gig. Get your film shown in the RSL. Respond to the flack armed with leaflets, books, and a basic humanist approach. Trust your arguments to be as strong as theirs. Call a friend afterwards. It is important.(I'm screwing my courage up as I write to accept a gig in a country pub to talk on 'spirituality'). Keep up the energy.

    Yes, it is September 11th. I don't want to share my grief here on what that event has done to the world. It is a separate subject that should never have been linked to our refugees and asylum seekers. But it increases our responsibility to them that such a link was and is made, as their lives here are made the more difficult for it.

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