Saturday, October 17, 2015

How Did We Get Here, Australia? The Lasting Impact Of Politicising Tampa And SIEV X

It's 14 years this weekend since the sailing and subsequent discovery of the tragedy of the "SIEV X". This August it was the same anniversary of the Tampa affair. Both these events involving the boat journey of asylum seekers trying to reach Australia for protection have had profound effects on Australia's immigration policies and treatment of asylum seekers, and refugees.

The story of the Tampa affair is stepped out via these photos of the amazing Grandmothers Against Detention of Refugee Children Ballarat, on their Spring Stroll last month.  Each card held by a grandmother sets out the main points.

The SIEV X - or so called 'Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel X' as the Australian government of the day labelled it - was a boat that set off from a tiny fishing village in Indonesia with 421 passengers aboard. Overcrowded and unseaworthy, the boat sunk.

353 people are thought to have died in the water, including 146 children. These were reportedly families attempting to join other family members who had already made the journey to Australia. 45 people from the boat were rescued, and returned to Indonesia.

Evidence suggests that Australia knew the boat was there, in trouble, and did nothing to help the people on board.

You can read a full chronology of the SIEV X here.

These two on-water events happened amid an Australian election. John Howard used the Tampa story in his campaign, and whipped the media into a frenzy about 'boat people'. He then used another SEIV in the same October as his example of "children overboard", which was received by the boarder Australian community, but proved to be lies in later Senate Inquiry evidence.

Howard's solution for Tampa was the birth of the Pacific Solution, and the first use of the tiny Pacific island nation of Nauru as a "processing centre", in a deal agreed on on September 10 2001.

The date before the Western world changed it's view of Muslims, and developed a never-before-seen awareness of terror and terrorism, as 9/11 in New York City happened. The climate for foreigners in Western nations, including Australia, changed.

Julian Burnside QC paints the impact of this world event, the treatment of the Tampa, and subsequent Australian fear-mongering about asylum seekers coming by boat in many speeches, as it was his full introduction to the refugee policy of Australia. You can read a transcript of his Hamer Oration here, delivered just last month.

The Howard government in full election campaign mode used this post-9/11 attacks fear to whip up further a public fear of 'boat people', linking those on the Tampa. Because there were Muslims onboard the Tampa. The old White Australia rhetoric was powerful to the voting age at the time.

The Muslims on the Tampa were mostly Hazaras from Afghanistan, actually fleeing the Taliban. But that fact would never be mentioned in the press buzz of fear of the day.

Most of those on the Tampa were transferred to a camp Nauru, and held there until 2004 when the refugees in this group were finally brought to Australia and placed in the community under restricted temporary conditions.

The notion of "classified" information about events such as the SIEV X, and today's call of "On-Water Matters", draws obvious parrallels in Australia's current turn back policy.

Nauru has been closed, reopened, closed, and reopened to it's current status - many men, women and children have currently been held there, now as declared refugees, since October 2013. The end of the current chapter of this blight on Australia's human rights records, treatment of the world's asylum seekers and refugees, and enduring legacy of the Tampa is not yet closed.

Additional Links:
How Tampa Become A Turning Point - Amnesty International Australia

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