Wednesday is the fourth anniversary of the sinking of the doomed SIEVX. To commemorate the occasion we are revisiting some earlier writing on the tragedy:
'[I]n the end the most haunting image the [2001 Federal] election threw up was not that of a presidential Howard embracing world leaders or an avuncular Beazley embracing punters. Rather, it was a picture of three smiling young girls, three girls who looked radiant, beautiful children who drowned on a boat along with some hundreds of others falsely hopeful of becoming Australians...
Richard Flanagan ~ 'Election 2001: this is not my Australia' The Age,
9 November 2001
In a room in [Sydney] a father refuses water because every time he drinks it reminds him of the mouths of his three beautiful daughters filling with water, irrevocably, fatally. The media tell us Kim Beazley is a good man. But like John Howard, Kim Beazley says rules are rules and like John Howard does not think this man ought be allowed out of Australia to visit his grieving relatives.
This is not my Australia, I want to say to that grieving father. I want to tell him things that are not possible: how if I could sing the sea out of his sweet daughters' lungs and have them Australian, oh how I would. To say that I am ashamed and lost and my country with me and no one any longer knows the way back from such terrible shame, this shame that is now ours.
But words were cheaper than children's lives in Australia now, and all were relaxed and comfortable inside their lounge rooms, curtains firmly drawn, and no one wished to venture outside to see the corpses that flecked the distant ocean like storm-tossed kelp leaves.'
'The loss of SIEV X is Australia's loss: 146 children died, some quickly others slowly; they should have grown up to be Australian - we will remember them. 142 women died, loving women who bravely traversed the world because Australia promised freedom once - we will remember them. 65 men - doctors, an engineer, linguists - fine and resourceful people we would have been proud to call Australian - we will remember them.
Mary Dagmar Davies, Eva Sallis, Pamela Curr and Garry Bickley
As we mark [the fourth] anniversary of 353 human lives lost, as this tragedy knifes its way into the soul of our nation, we remember you with burning hearts. Rest in Peace for you are not forgotten, nor will you ever be forgotten. You are part of this country and its people.'
Edited from Jannah the SIEVX Memorial condolence messages and published in the Australian on the first anniversary of the sinking, 19 October 2001.
'It will be a day and a date I will always remember, because 19 October 2001, the day that all those children drowned, was the same day that my first and only daughter, Lillith, was born. She is, in my view, the most beautiful girl ever born - I apologise to everybody else who might have children, but that is just the way it is - and to think that, at the same time that she was being born and all the wonder that goes with that, there were 146 children whose lives were about to end as they struggled in the water in such fear and terror. It is indeed a tragedy, and it is one that should be remembered. They were all trying to seek a better life.'
Senator Andrew Bartlett, Speech on the 2nd Anniversary of the SIEVX tragedy
I received an email today from a girl who was doing a school project on SIEVX. She asked me what happened to all the children - where are they now? At first I was shocked that she asked this question, that she hadn't realised that all the photos on the front page of this website are of drowned children. But her question made me realise how little is still known about SIEVX and how the government's refusal to release the list of names it holds of the dead works to keep the enormity of this tragedy under wraps...
There are at least 18 children who drowned on SIEVX who have now been dead at least as long as they were alive:
Karrar, infant son of Najah Muhsin, aged 1
Ali Falah, infant son of Falah Al-Musawi, aged 1
Fatima Fawzi, infant daughter of Fawzi Qasim, aged 1
Zahra Al Battat, infant daughter of Dr Al Battat, aged 1
Alya Raad, daughter of Rokaya Satar, aged 2
Batoul Falah, daughter of Falah Al-Musawi, aged 2
Rakem Haidar, daughter of Haidar Ataa, aged 2
Doha Yasser Al Helou, daughter of Yasser Al Helou, aged 2
Mohammed, son of Hazam Al Rowaimi, aged 3
Marwa Al Helou, daughter of Yasser Al Helou, aged 3
Zahra Al Yassiry, daughter of Sayed Al Yassiry, aged 3
Ali Alsadi, son of Diya and Raged Al Saadi, aged 3
Moustafa Alrimahi, aged 4
Kauthar Raad, daughter of Rokaya Satar, aged 4
Rem Haidar, daughter of Haidar Ataa, aged 4
Zainab Al Battat, daughter of Dr Al Battat, aged 4
Mohammad Al Muntazar Alghazzi, aged 4
Alyaa Alghizzy, daughter of Ghazi Alghizzy, aged 4
This list will grow longer with every year that passes...
In the last twelve months hundreds of thousands of innocent lives have been lost in the Asian tsunami, Hurricane Katrina and the recent earthquake in India and Pakistan. So why four years after the event does the loss of 353 lives aboard an asylum-seeker vessel enroute to Australia's Christmas Island, still burn in our hearts?
SIEVX was not a 'natural' disaster...
If a government is in the business of both 'beefing up' disruption (ie increasing the danger in embarking on a people smuggler's boat) and scaling back SOLAS (ie providing second class maritime safety response to the boats of asylum seekers) then how can that government not have blood on its hands when a boat sinks and hundreds drown inside its border protection surveillance zone?