Today we are proud to be able to share with our readers a chapter from a recently published book by Arnold Zable that tells the story of an extraordinary woman and SIEVX survivor Amal Basry. During her four years living among us in Australia, Amal was the voice of those who survived the horrific sinking and did so much to bring the story of what happened on SIEVX to public consciousness. It is an honour to have her story grace the front page of sievx.com today, 19 October 2011, on this huge milestone, the tenth anniversary of the sinking of SIEVX.
‘The Ancient Mariner’ is the culminating story of Arnold Zable’s new book,
Violin Lessons. It recounts the life of Amal Basry, her
extraordinary tale of survival, her unwavering commitment to bearing witness,
her passion for life and love of music, and her friendship. In a cruel irony,
Amal died of cancer in March 2006.
ARNOLD ZABLE was born in Wellington, New Zealand, and grew up in the inner Melbourne suburb of Carlton. He has travelled and lived in the USA, India, Papua New Guinea, Europe, Southeast Asia and China, and now lives in Melbourne with his wife and son. His books include Jewels and Ashes, Café Scheherazade, The Fig Tree, Scraps of Heaven and Sea of Many Returns. Arnold is president of the International PEN, Melbourne, and is a human rights advocate.
Thanks to Liam Gerner for recording this version of "Small Wooden Boat" for the 10th anniversary.
Liam is a 28 year old Australian singer songwriter. In recent years he has been based and toured relentlessly around the UK, Europe and USA. Liam has just completed a year and a half of touring Europe and the USA with Ryan Bingham and The Dead Horses and in Pnau. He has also toured with Paul Weller, Jason Isbell, Alanis Morisette, Drive By truckers, and Paolo Nutini. He is based in Topanga Canyon, California where he writes and performs.
CHRISTINE MILNE: 'We assume because we know there was disruption activity occurring in Indonesia before these vessels left, we want to know whether Australia was instrumental in setting up any kind of disruption in relation to the SIEV X, what did it know, what did its partners in the Indonesian government know and its own network of informants-because really this is the crux of it.'
Yesterday, Greens leader Bob Brown said important questions about the tragedy remained unanswered.
''What did Australian, and or Indonesian, officials know about the preparations to send so many people in such an over-crowded fashion, and so many of them women and children, into the ocean?
''Why did Australian surveillance not pick up the SIEV X? And if it did, why was it not tracked?''
Those of us who built the SIEV X memorial are just ordinary Australians, we are not investigative journalists, or jurists who can subpoena witnesses. A proper investigation needs to be carried out to either set aside our fears, or confirm them. In a democracy, citizens are responsible for their country's actions. We cannot stand tall as Australians until we dispel the possibility these people died because of us.
Most disturbing of all was the plight of the grief-stricken parents of the three little girls. The mother was among 45 survivors to be taken to Jakarta after being rescued; the father was already in Australia, having been deemed a refugee and issued with a temporary protection visa (TPV) after sending months in a remote detention centre.
Because of his temporary status, he would not be allowed to return to Australia if he left the country to console his distraught wife. Immigration minister Philip Ruddock chose not to give him special dispensation and announced that only survivors found to be refugees who had strong family links in Australia would be accepted into this country. Ultimately, just seven met this test
Faris Shohani relives the tragedy as if it happened only hours ago. ''It is like a tattoo,'' he says. ''I can never wash it off.''
At any time he is assailed by indelible images. He sees his seven-year-old daughter Zahra and his wife Leyla, slipping from his grasp and disappearing into the ocean. He calls out his daughter's name in his sleep. And he awakes to the same question: "Why? Why don't we know the truth about what happened?''
Yesterday was the 10th anniversary of the sinking of SIEV X.
I marked it with two months of research... Six hundred and five people were certainly or probably drowned on four sunken or lost SIEVs, starting with SIEV X in 2001 (353 deaths) and finishing with 50 deaths in the SIEV 221 shipwreck at Christmas Island on December 15 last year. On October 3, 2009, a boat carrying 105 Hazara Afghans went missing between Indonesia and Christmas Island. And on November 13 last year, a boat carrying 97 people left Indonesia from Iraq and Iran, and was not heard of again. Media investigations of many pre-embarkation and at-sea phone messages to relatives in Australia make both boat losses equally probable. Customs admits now to having some knowledge of the 2009 boat, but none of the 2010 boat.
On the eve of the tenth anniversary of the sinking of SIEVX it is deeply troubling to see both major political parties using the tragedy as justification for ramping up Australia's harsh and punitive treatment of boat people. By citing SIEVX, both Labor and the Coalition are attempting to put a soft edge on their cruel bilateral policy of offshore processing by feigning humanitarian concern for future asylum seekers who they would have us believe need to be deterred from getting on boats because of the risk of drowning. No longer is it 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come' but 'We will protect those who would seek refuge in this country by ensuring that they never come.' To use SIEVX as a warning or a threat in this way is particularly odious given the suspicions of Australian culpability in the sinking that have never been fully investigated.