Saturday, September 3, 2005

ACT flags Canberra site for SIEV-X memorial

The ACT Government says Canberra would be an appropriate location for a memorial to remember hundreds of asylum seekers who drowned when their boat the SIEV-X sank four years ago.

More than 350 asylum seekers were killed when the overcrowded Indonesian fishing vessel sank en route to Australia.

A group of artists and writers is pushing for a national memorial on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.

Chief Minister Jon Stanhope says Australians should recognise the tragedy but it is for the Federal Government to consider first.

"This is a national Commonwealth issue, it's not an ACT specific or ACT Government issue," he said.

"At this stage I haven't given serious consideration to whether the ACT Government should step in if the Commonwealth Government is resistant to working with this particular group."

Five years since Australia’s SIEV X tragedy: the official cover-up continues

Five years after Australia’s worst maritime disaster, in which 353 asylum seekers, including 150 children, drowned, not one of the fundamental questions raised by the terrible tragedy has been answered.

In the early afternoon of October 19, 2001, the boat’s passengers, fleeing mainly from Iraq and Afghanistan, perished in international waters between Indonesia and Australia. They were travelling in a hopelessly overcrowded refugee boat, which sank while trying to reach the Australian territorial outpost of Christmas Island. The area was under heavy surveillance by the Australian air force and navy under the Howard government’s “Operation Relex”, launched to detect and repulse “Suspected Illegal Entry Vessels” (SIEVs).

A number of questions arise:

1. Why were the detailed intelligence reports about the boat’s departure from Indonesia, in an obviously unseaworthy condition, apparently ignored?

2. Why did the navy not intercept this boat, like every other refugee boat sailing from Indonesia to Christmas Island at the time?

3. Why did Howard government ministers and the military lie about what they knew and when? What has the government been trying to conceal?

If a jumbo jet or cruise liner carrying almost 400 individuals had disappeared in the Indian Ocean at the same location it is inconceivable that no search and rescue operation would have been mounted. Imagine the resources that would have been deployed had the passengers been British or American tourists! When lone yachtsmen have gone missing far away from the Australian coast, multi-million dollar rescue operations have, correctly, been carried out. But not in this case. And even more strikingly, no-one in official circles has been held to account. No official inquiry, even a coronial inquest, has been conducted into how and why these people died.

At the very least, it appears that the lives of the 397 stateless and penniless refugees aboard the SIEV 8 (later dubbed the SIEV X, or “unknown” SIEV) were considered to be of little value.

More ominously, their deaths served a definite political agenda. Soon after the catastrophe became known to the public, then immigration minister Philip Ruddock made the following chilling comment on SBS TV. This “may have an upside,” he declared, “in the sense that some people may see the dangers inherent in it”. In other words, the tragedy could prove to be just what the government needed to discourage other asylum seekers from trying to reach Australia.

More: The election of November 2001

By In Solidarity 3 September 05


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Psychiatrists dismiss Vanstone's call to limit role
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HREOC's deadline on child detainees passes
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Tampering with Asylum
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Baxter,'akin to the time in Nazi Germany'
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Asylum seeker denied medical help, court hears
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Once You've Been to Baxter You Can't Sit on the Fence
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Detention Centres, Solitary Confinement
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MP urges asylum seekers' release
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Rau ordeal a raw deal
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Australian held in Baxter detention centre
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Lawyers want Baxter detainee released for treatment !
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Baxter protesters 'being denied water, sleep'?
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Detainees urged to abandon rooftop protest!
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Advocates warn of detention centre riot risk
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Villawood detainees go on hunger strike
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Afghan children lose High Court battle against detention
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Australia's "GITMO" System
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Senior cleric damns Baxter as 'disgraceful'
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Detention centre media ban criticised
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Baxter detainee continues hunger strike
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Democrats to keep up pressure over asylum seekers
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Don't rock the Boat Howard!
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