Take politics out of asylum debate: Siev X survivor

18 Jul 2013, 8:18 pm -
Gary Cox, SBS

An Iraqi refugee has spoken out for the first time about how his family tragically drowned 12 years ago, when their leaky vessel sank off Christmas Island.

After a sleepless night Ahmed Al-Zalimi has decided it is time to ask Australia to recognise asylum seekers, not as a threat, but as desperate people enduring great suffering.

Three hundred and fifty-three lives were lost on October 19, 2001 when the SIEV X capsized.

"It is very very difficult to talk about there is a lot I can't say, my wife is still so depressed and it's been 12 years," he says.

Ahmed could not bring his family to Australia legally due to restrictions on his temporary protection visa.

It was a divisive political issue that overshadowed the painful fact that more than 300 people drowned.

Ahmed says a decade later, the policy and the tone of the debate on asylum seekers coming by boat hasn't changed.

"You know all these policies, just like the temprary protection visa, are only adding mystery to desperate people and contributing to the death of a lot of innocent people.

"Nobody would come on these boats and risk their lives if the conditions they were leaving behind were not worse than the conditions on the boat."

Experts gauging public opinion say Australia needs a new approach.

"We are at the nadir, the low point, of a process that has been underway for nearly two decades in which asylum seekers have been constructed as a problem," says Professor Kevin Dunn from the Challenging Racism Project at the University of Western Sydney.

At least five asylum seekers have died in two boat disasters in the past week, and its feared that with the PM's new policy about to be announced, there could be a rush of boats before the changes take effect.

Refugees already here say they are bracing, yet again, to be used as a political football.

"Both major parties have failed to show leadership on the issue," says Maqsood Al-Kabir, Refugee and Diversity Australia convenor. "They have bipartisanship but it's bipartisan in a way that shows more negativity and more violations of human rights."

Ahmed's message to our leaders: don't make asylum seekers an election issue.


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