Degrees of Hell
14 July 2003
by Marg Hutton & Tony Kevin
In view of the recent press coverage concerning Sondos Ismail's
family we decided to research what is already on the public
record about the visa situation of all the SIEVX survivor families
that we understand to be living in Australia. We have not sought to
intrude in people's personal affairs.
Seven survivors from five families are now understood to be
living in Australia. Their circumstances vary and it could be argued
that some are better off in a visa sense than others.
However, talking about 'better off' in these
circumstances is a nonsense - because all of the SIEVX survivor
families hold different classes of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs)
which, precisely because these visas offer only 'Temporary
Protection', leave the families in varying degrees of hell.
It appears that the seven survivors living here are all on subclass
XB451 Secondary Movement Relocation (Temporary) visas.
According to DIMIA:
'The subclass XB451 visa is an offshore temporary visa for persons who:
- are outside their home country,
- have left their country of first asylum;
- are currently residing in a country other than their home country or
country of first asylum ;
- have not entered Australia;
- are not an
offshore entry person; and
- are subject to persecution or substantial
discrimination in their home country, or a female registered as being
of concern to UNHCR.
The subclass XB451 visa is a five year visa
which enables a person to obtain a permanent protection visa after
four and a half years if there is a continuing need for protection'
Although not listed as a criterion a spokesman for DIMIA was
quoted in a newspaper last year as stating that: 'survivors of the
sinking would [only] be accepted into Australia if they had proven
Presumably this means family links to people whose residency in
Australia is secure. But as we understand it, all of the survivors
living in Australia except the orphaned Zaynab Alrimahi have
been reunited with family in Australia who themselves are only on
three year temporary protection visas. (Zaynab's uncle
and aunt arrived in 1995 and have since been granted Australian
According to Philip Ruddock, the rules governing TPVs were changed in
September 2001 'to give the least advantageous outcome to [people] who
seek to enter Australia without authority... If [someone] come[s] to
Australia or one of our territories or are processed in one of the
offshore processing centres, Nauru or Manus Island, they can only get
a three year temporary protection visa and that will be for life. In
other words, at any time, when they're found no longer to need
protection they can be returned home.'
This means that most of the SIEVX survivors now in
Australia are in slightly better visa circumstances than those of
their immediate family with whom they were reunited. But they are
still under the threat of eventual forced return if the Minister
decides at the time their XB451 visa expires that they no longer
have 'a continuing need for protection' in Australia. And, given the
interdependence of the survivors and their families in Australia, a
threat to one is a threat to all in the family.
For example if the government decides not to renew the TPV of a
spouse who was in Australia before SIEVX and thus on an expiring
three year TPV, or of a child born in Australia to a SIEVX survivor
and spouse who are both TPV holders, this presents agonising serial
choices for survivors on an XB451 visa - to stay on longer in
Australia alone, losing access to their spouse and/or child, or to
abandon their quest for asylum in Australia and return to Iraq as a
family group with the first one who is ordered to leave.
It is hard to avoid a conclusion that SIEVX survivor families are
being deliberately left in such cruel limbos of uncertainty; and that
our government may be quite happy to see them all eventually forced
back to Iraq, so that their stories may be more easily forgotten in
Some Examples on Public Record
The changes to TPV legislation in September 2001 certainly affect
the families of survivors Faris Khadem and the sisters Najah and Zena
More than half a dozen members of Faris Khadem's family, including his
young son Ali had arrived by boat to Ashmore Reef in August 2001.
Ali is on a three year protection visa that will expire at least a
year before Faris's XB451 visa. Because of the changes to the
Visa legislation outlined above, Ali cannot become a permanent
resident. At best, the child Ali (now aged 11 - his mother Leyla and sister Zahra drowned on SIEVX and he and his father Faris are now alone together) is doomed to a cycle of three year TPV renewals,
at worst he can be made to return to Iraq alone should it be
deemed that he no longer needs protection.
Najah and Zena Zubaydi's parents, Najah's husband and two young
daughters arrived in March 2001 and were granted 3 year TPVs in August
that year when they were released from Port Hedland detention
centre. It appears very unlikely that the family would have applied
for permanent residency before September 2001. So like Ali Khadem
mentioned above, they could be sent back to Iraq when their visas
expire in August next year. Najah and Zena would be left here
alone to await their eventual fate under their XB451 visas.
Both Faris Khadem and Najah Zubaydi lost a child in the SIEVX
disaster - Najah's 18 month old son Karrar, and Faris' seven year old
daughter Zahra, both drowned when SIEVX foundered. To have already
a child and then to have the threat of separation from your remaining
living family members hanging over your head must be very hard to
Amal Hassan Basry and her son Rami survived the sinking of SIEVX.
Amal's husband Abbas Akram is on a three year TPV which is due to expire
this year. We are unsure of his situation. If he did not apply for
permanent residency before September 2001 when the visa legislation
was changed then he could be sent back to Iraq when his current
The best-known of these tragedies is that of Sondos Ismail and her
husband Ahmed Alzalimi . They lost their three daughters Zahra, Fatima
and Eman on SIEVX as Ahmed waited in Australia. (They had already
lost a baby soon after birth in Iran). According to a newspaper article by Kelly Burke written last year,
Ahmed is eligible for permanent
residency because he applied before the legislation changed in
September 2001. We hope that report is correct - but Ahmed may
still be vulnerable to being ordered back under the 'continuing need
for protection' test.
Sondos and Ahmed's fifth
and only living child, the baby Allaa, although born in Sydney
at the beginning of this year is not an Australian citizen. 'Under
law, children born in Australia assume the same immigration status as
The Australia that Allaa was born into is profoundly different from
the one that her father sought asylum in four years ago:
In Oct 1999 the Australian Government introduced a TPV system
advocated by Pauline
with the agreement of the Australian Labor Party.
In September 2000 an Australian Federal Police - Indonesian National
Police protocol begin joint cooperation to disrupt people smuggling
syndicates in Indonesia.
In September 2001 Operation Relex starts intercepting asylum
boats to Christmas Island and Ashmore Reef and the 'Pacific solution'
TPV legislation is strengthened with the agreement of the Australian
Party so that holders can never achieve
permanent residency. In
October 2001 Australia begins to tow asylum seeker vessels back to
Indonesia and on 19 October SIEVX sinks.
Now in July 2003 seven SIEVX survivors and their families in
Australia - genuine refugees, real human beings, our neighbours,
people whose lives have been grievously damaged -
are living in a hell generated by the tragic impact of
these toxic initiatives.
Immigration Minister Ruddock has indicated that he is willing to consider
aligning the time frames of TPVs for family members, but is firmly
committed to the TPV policy.
By comparison, most of the other SIEVX survivors who were accepted
by Scandinavian countries were offered permanent residency there. We
know of no SIEVX survivor on a TPV-type visa anywhere else in the
world. As far as we know, that exquisite degree of cruelty is uniquely
We also wonder now, why did Australian authorities offer to accept
any SIEVX survivors here? Surely the Scandinavian countries and
Canada would have been ready to give them all safe permanent homes?
Was it simply a case of 'burden-sharing' for international
presentational reasons? Or, did our authorities perhaps want to have
a group of vulnerable (in visa terms) potential witnesses in
Australia, in case it was ever convenient to mount prosecutions over
SIEVX, eg in the possible upcoming prosecution of the SIEVX voyage
book-keeper Khaled Daoed, if Sweden should agree to his extradition?
Could that perhaps be a potential deal in the making - help us stitch
up a file-closing case for Daoed to take the fall as the SIEVX
ringleader, and then we might look favourably on finding a way for
your families to stay in Australia?
As noted above, Labor has not challenged TPVs at either the stage
of its introduction or of its subsequent tightening.
There are other damaged men on TPVs living in Australia who lost their
entire families on SIEVX. ( eg Mohammed Alghazzi in Perth, Ali Mehdi
Sobie and Haidar al-Zoohairi in Sydney and Hazam Al Rowaimi, last heard
of heading for Perth) These men - as much SIEVX victims as those who
are living with survivors in Australia - seem especially vulnerable to
early removal as their TPVs expire. We don't know how many there may
Isn't it time for Mr Rudddock to treat these tragic SIEVX survivor
families with humanity, by giving them all permanent residence as a
special humanitarian decision within his discretionary powers, and end
their agony? There are few enough of them, and the tragedy of SIEVX
is - hopefully - unlikely ever now to be repeated. It would certainly
surprise us, but we would genuinely welcome such a generous and
altruistic act on the part of the Minister.
A letter-writing campaign has
been organised by hopecaravan.com to help the SIEVX survivor families in their visa
situation. Or you might want to send your own individual
letters by fax or post to Mr Ruddock. The more letters the better: http://www.hopecaravan.com/ecampaign/sievx.asp