Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Remembering the SIEV X

The SIEV X sank on the 19th of October, 2001. 'SIEV', stands for 'Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel', 'X' designates it was never assigned a number. This particular SIEV was loaded with about 400 people when it developed engine problems en route to Christmas island. It was two full days until they were rescued, by which time most of the women and children had drowned. I was invited by my friend Bede to take photos of a vigil on the 9th anniversary of this tragedy last week, organised by Amnesty International. It was an experience I will not soon forget.

The vigil was held at the national memorial on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It consists of a series of white polls, one for each of the 353 people who died, each uniquely hand painted by schools, churches and community groups around the country.

This memorial is such a hauntingly beautiful spectacle, I was amazed I had never experienced it before. I was even more amazed that 9 years later, we are still observing the same politics of fear that to this day, has prevented an official inquiry into the many unanswered questions surrounding this incident. The same politics of fear, that two weeks prior to the sinking of SIEV X, allowed the Howard government to deliberately decieve the Australian people that asylum seekers had thrown their children overboard, in an effort to demonise some of the worlds most desperate people, to appear to be taking a 'strong' stance on this issue and placate to the racist sentiments of their voting base.

As i wandered through the white poles, I wondered if Australians remembered these people when they voted for Tony Abbot and his promise to 'stop the boats' last election. I wondered if they thought the fabric of our society would be torn so completely asunder by allowing these doctors, engineers and linguists to enter our society, that is was worth their lives being lost into the depths of the Indian Ocean. I wondered if they weighed the benefits of keeping this nation state we invaded 'racially pure', against those 146 children, 142 women and 65 men. If they knew of the anguish of the husbands and fathers who had already arrived, risking everything to prepare a home for them, only to be enmeshed in the crippling limbo of temporary protection visas. If the words under all those pages of black ink would change their mind, or if they would simply black out the truth themselves.

I hope that by this time next year, on the 10th anniversary of this tragedy, we will have progressed away from viewing the desperate, persecuted people of other cultures as 'queue jumpers' and towards viewing them as human beings. There will be a much bigger vigil at the same location then, I really hope to see you there.


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