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In the shadow of SIEV-X



Two decades ago, an Indonesian vessel given the name SIEV X sank with loss of life that should have caused a flood of tears and a surge of compassion. Instead of being seen in humanitarian terms, the deaths of 353 people became a form of rich political capital, placed in the bank of opportunism to be amortised at a federal election.

The Howard government had already ushered in a new chapter in Australian border policy in sending SAS troops to repel the 438 individuals on the Norwegian vessel, the MV Tampa, in August 2001. Refusing to let the ship dock at an Australian port in accordance with international maritime law and the Refugee Convention became a clarion call for border protection advocates. 

In many respects, the SIEV X remains less known. But it was no less significant in firming up the proposition that those making their way to Australia to seek sanctuary, and those aiding them doing so, were to be demonised and criminalised. The vessel itself, originally overladen with 397 asylum seekers, sank in the waters between Java and Christmas Island on October 19, 2001. A good number of those on board hoped to eventually reunite with partners on Temporary Protection Visas in Australia.

Many perished instantly; a hundred clung on for the next 20 hours, succumbing to exhaustion. 44 were found alive by two Indonesian fishing boats. The location of the sinking was important for taking place in Indonesia’s area of search-and-rescue responsibility. But, contentiously, it also took place in Australia’s aerial border protection surveillance zone.

On October 23, news of the drownings made it into the public domain. Labor opposition leader Kim Beazley suggested that this episode, were it to be confirmed, pointed to ‘the failure of policy.’ This failure was due to a lack of agreement between Indonesia and Australia on how to prevent people getting on leaky boats to seek passage. This was hardly a glowing endorsement of the right to asylum, and Beazley, in subsequent clarifying remarks, insisted that he was not blaming Howard but the ‘appalling evil’ of the people smuggling trade.

Howard, in turn, suggested that his opponent was profiting from the drownings for political advantage. That he would make such a ‘despicable’ slur showed Beazley’s ‘opportunist political character’. The debate duly descended, and Howard, in turn, could insinuate that the SIEV X was an example of how Australia needed to police borders with ever greater vigilance.


'The language towards the SIEV X was one of inhumane reservation, of hearts hardened and unmoved.'


On October 28, at the launching of his re-election campaign in Sydney, the Prime Minister declared that ‘we decide who comes into this country and the circumstances in which they come’. Howard took aim at Beazley as one soft on border protection while praising the Royal Australian Navy for not only protecting borders ‘but saving lives in the process of doing so.’ As the New York Times put it at the time, the only question to be asked in that election was which Australian candidate had the harder heart.

The SIEV X, like its victims, would have perished from memory but for the efforts of former Australian diplomat Tony Kevin, who was convinced that the vessel had sunk in  the Australian maritime surveillance zone.  He urged the Senate to take up the reins investigating the issue. An angrily defiant Rear-Admiral Geoffrey Smith was adamant that Australian authorities had no forewarning of the vessel’s sailing ‘until we were told it had foundered’.

Survivors, such as the late Amal Basry, suggested a different story. In 2002, Basry alleged ‘military-style vessels’ had approached at night, only to then depart. Kevin, for his part, claims that SIEV X was a ‘coffin ship’, designed to sink as part of an Australian smuggling disruption program.

What is certainly known is that Smith’s testimony was vastly at odds with other government accounts. Admiral Mark Bonser, head of Coastwatch, rang the Navy in April 2002 to warn that his own Senate testimony would contradict Smith’s claims. In a letter of ‘clarification’ to the Senate, Smith admitted that the Department of Defence had received intelligence on several occasions: October 14,18, 20 and 22. On October 20, the navy was informed that SIEV X had ‘400 passengers on board, with some passengers not embarking because the vessel was overcrowded’.

Bonser’s own testimony was also, in parts, incomplete. He denied, for instance, that Jane Halton’s People Smuggling Taskforce had any knowledge of SIEV X prior to October 22. But on October 18, as the minutes of the task force reveal, the members received ‘multi-source information with high confidence level’ that there was ‘some risk of vessels in poor condition and [needing] rescue at sea’. The SIEV X was making its way to Christmas Island. But on October 22, the task force noted that the vessel had not, as yet, been found, was ‘missing, grossly overloaded’, with ‘no jetsam spotted’ nor ‘reports from relatives’.

From the start, the language towards the SIEV X was one of inhumane reservation, of hearts hardened and unmoved. The boat, a ‘suspected illegal entry vessel’ in official jargon, remained undesignated. Knowledge of the state of the vessel, or the number of those on board, was denied. The Senate Select Committee inquiry established to investigate the ‘children overboard’ scandal, after it broadened its focus on the fate of SIEV X, found it ‘extraordinary that a major human disaster could occur in the vicinity of a theatre of intensive Australian operations and remain undetected until three days after the event without any concern being raised within intelligence and decision-making circles.’ 

Even here, however, the committee’s language seemed less concerned by the status of the victims and reasons for journey than the operational nature of their alleged non-detection. Committee members found it, for instance, ‘particularly unusual that neither of the interdepartmental oversight bodies, the Illegal Immigration Information Oversight Committee and Operational Coordination Committee, took action to check whether the event revealed systemic problems in the intelligence and operational relationship.’

By 2011, Marg Hutton reflected how Howard’s ‘We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’ had turned to ‘We will protect those who seek refuge in this country by ensuring that they never come’.

Across the globe, we see examples of this policy replicated. Instead of compassion and understanding, refugees and asylum seekers find themselves used as weapons of political blackmail, chance and advantage. The Belarussian regime of Aleksander Lukashenko has relocated them to the Polish border to harry a government sympathetic to the Belarussian opposition. Poland, in turn, has repelled individuals who have a right to asylum and sanctuary and has promised to build a US$400 million wall on the Belarus border. Lithuania, for its part, accuses Belarus of conducting ‘hybrid warfare’ in using refugees as ‘human shields’.

The Johnson government in the United Kingdom has taken heart and interest in advice given by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on how to deal with cross channel arrivals. The UK’s Home Secretary Priti Patel is advancing her own version of Australia’s ‘turn-back-the-boats’ policy claiming that Britons are sick of ‘open borders’, ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and ‘a failed asylum system’. In Denmark, the centre-left Social Democrats have made agreements with third countries in Africa to ensure that those seeking to venture to Europe are kept away. All of these policies are taking place in the shadow of SIEV X’s victims — and thousands of others who have seen the right of asylum negated by faux compassion in favour of border protection. The hardened heart continues to win out.




Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. 

Main image: Siev X Memorial, Weston Park, Canberra. (Wikicommons)

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, SIEV X, refugee, asylum seeker



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Existing comments

Yikes, a conspiracy theory! At some stage you've gotta ask how a boat with 400+ people on board doesn't use an EPRIB satellite safety beacon or radio to make a mayday distress call. Binoy doesn't clarify that the Australian aerial boarder protection zone is well inside Indonesian waters but that Indonesia did not provide air surveillance at that time; we had no operational responsibility there unless by request. Any boat from Australia MUST have radio and EPRIB for more than 5km offshore operating; SIEV-X was too slow to reach Australian territory as claimed might have happened. As with most refugee stories of misadventures, they just don't seem to add up to other than a forseeable predicament. Is it necessarily "hard hearted" to implement strict policy to try to stop people risking their lives rather than cater for a myriad of silly, dangerous attempts, even blamed for failure to save those in folly. It's a lot easier and safer to fly or ferry to West Papua then cross by land into PNG; you can just about walk to the Australian territory islands in Torres Strait at low tide. But don't tell anyone...

ray | 02 November 2021  
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I would suggest you do some more reading, it's all available on the website sievx.com. The many reports of this boat went back to July 2001, the AFP had a spy following it, a man named Waleed who was paid $250,000 and Australian citizenship. I am so sick to death of such hateful comments about the lives of these refugees, I met two of the survivors in Adelaide, they were convinced the navy took their brother who has never been seen again. There is no conspiracy, it happened.

Marilyn | 03 November 2021  

Thanks Marilyn, I acknowledge SIEV-X "happened" but don't accept the claim the vessel reached Australian waters (which implies conspiracy that authorities did not do their duty). There is no animosity or hate to refugees implied or intended in my opinion.

ray | 04 November 2021  

Pope Francis stated, “each country has a right to control its borders.” Yet according to Dr. Kampmark, wanting protection of borders is simply “faux compassion”.
In Sydney a few years ago, a Socialist group staged demonstrations in favour of North Korea one week, and for refugees a few weeks later. They would have us believe they were motivated by compassion. Yet anyone conversant with the murderous history of communism/socialism, knows they will manipulate any issue for political gain. It is they who are using refugees “as weapons of political blackmail”.
Former Propaganda Director of the American Communist Party, Manning Johnson, resigned stating that American blacks were being used as pawns by the Party hoping that a “bloody racial conflict would split America.”
Feigning compassion, the Biden administration has dismantled America’s border protection program and provided welfare inducements to migrants to enter the US. Hundreds of thousands are flowing in. No compassion for Americans displaced by cheap labour. And no compassion for American’s health—migrants are exempt from Covid vaccine mandates. Democrats hope migrants will provide another voting bloc for them.
But in July, 27 Cuban refugees fleeing communist oppression were refused entry to the US. No votes there.

Ross Howard | 02 November 2021  

Um, yes, the world does seem to have an immense refugee problem due to wars, famine etc. Given climate change and extreme poverty it will only get worse. What is the solution? I suspect the wealthy First World, where most of the refugees are bound, is both incapable of and unwilling to accept all these people. It is interesting you mention Priti Patel as being a putative hardliner. Her family were, I believe, refugees from Uganda when Idi Amin expelled all the Asians. She would have heard the story of the expulsion and what led up to it from family members. This is not just about the SIEV-X. It is about an ongoing world crisis. I am not sure Tony Kevin is someone to give complete credibility to. His evidence I would regard as being as contentious as those he opposes. No one is completely unbiased, including yourself. This issue has become a 'football' kicked all over the ground.

Edward Fido | 03 November 2021  

Profoundly tragic to see the load of predictable codswallop and misinformation that your tight and precise recording of these horrific events elicits, Binoy, viz. Ray's piteously damp squib offering the PNG land-link as a palliative to drowned asylum-seekers, while knowing full well that Australian border police would intercept them, if not the border war between Indonesia and West Papua. Next, Ross appeals to to the outdated anti-communism of his 1950's 'reds-under-the-bedding'; while Edward to the handwashing precedent of Pilate. True enough, the desperate and ongoing migration of 'los desaparecidos' represents a major challenge to all humanity. Pope Francis' comments on borders come from a much broader and deeper appreciation of this by the Argentine Pope, familiar with the complexity of forces that push migration, especially of those always at the bottom of the proverbial pile and which include neocolonialism, plunder of natural resources, unbridled capitalism unleashed upon the developing world, destruction of indigenous cultures and sustainable native economies, rampant deforestation, global warming and climate change. Would that Edward, who always claims to have known and tried everything, were to pick up and read a copy of 'Laudato Si', instead of trumpeting his views like a guru with a cracked horn.

Michael Furtado | 03 November 2021  
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Michael, I lived in West Papua and Irian Jaya area for a few years (KITAS) and have been to Ok Tedi, Tabubil and Kiunga in PNG on various visits, so perhaps before you "armchair expert" opinions on regional travel based on what you might have read you could try to consider sometimes people who you don't agree with just might know stuff you don't. The boats policy applies to "arrivals by boat"; I didn't say it'd be easy but it seems safer than the Christmas island boat option. Australia "inherited" Christmas island in 1958 from the UK and paid Singapore for the phosphate mine; probably the most nonsensical Act we could enter into by taking control of an island nowhere near Australia and so close 350kms to Java. Perhaps it has some strategic importance but retaining the island border security relies heavily on administrative controls functioning. Australian border control would be a lot easier and safer for refugees if we relinquished the territory to Indonesia or returned sovereignty to the UK.

ray | 04 November 2021  

Surely Binoy the Border force and the Navy are not a search and rescue operation. Whether there was intelligence of illegal entries and unseaworthy craft or not,does not place the responsibility for search and rescue on our Navy. Especially where those vessels are operating in a clandestine fashion.
You'd hardly expect the smugglers to foot the rescue bill, nor the Governments of their ports of origin. Quite frankly I must sympathise with Rear-Admiral Geoffrey Smith.
As for sleazy Beasley, I'm inclined to sympathise with Howard and regard his reaction as justified. I mean, when does Defence become Offence?

Francis Armstrong | 03 November 2021  

What's the policy that will avoid hardened hearts? Can we have some ideas, policies and strategies to prevent the needless deaths? I asked Amal Basry once, after hearing her terrible story of SeivX, what should we do? What can I do? She replied, "find solutions to people hopping on boats. Find the alternative."
Australia's turnbacks stopped the deaths. If no turnbacks, disruption and cooperation with Indonesia, then thousands more would now be dead. No mention of this point. We were no doubt heading towards deaths of the service people tasked with venturing into these waters.
More countries are facing these dangerous migration pathways now. Every country of second asylum now has in place, or trying to put in place, a policy to stop often dangerous, unplanned, uncapped entry. What's the sustainable policy? How can we address the complexity of the issues faced? Looking forward - what are some policy answers? I am completely unsure what purpose this article served.

John | 04 November 2021  

John's sheep's bleat contrasts embarrassingly alongside Binoy Kampmark's Zolaesque 'j'accuse'. I hear quite a few consciences here popping off in the wee hours: that why Kampmark writes! Without those like him the drowned are left to roam about relentlessly asking what we did when our politicians and armed forces knew and kept silent while muffling their screams. One who should know better and whose urbane banter and inspired excuses often distort reality is Edward, who ought to know that Priti Patel, the UK Home Secretary, is no refugee. Coming from a conservative and privileged Indian background, her parents were among the first to hop on a plane out of Kampala before the UK Immigration Control Act, under pressure from Powell internally and Amin in Uganda, excised Asia-specific UK passport holders from automatic entry to Britain. Edward's superficially urbane and broad-minded social liberalism clouds his ability to interrogate his own quaint neocolonial attitudes and assumptions. Patel is and always was a neoliberal Thatcherite whose social values lack any vision or idealism of the kind espoused by Edward Boyle while embracing an economic doctrine that would make Ayn Rand look like a socialist. Patel's ethnicity is used to camouflage her studied ruthlessness!

Michael Furtado | 04 November 2021  
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It appeared is if Michael Furtardo was trying to prove his intellectual credentials by his multiple ad hominem attacks on various other posters, whilst blissfully ignoring their posts and the actual contents thereof. I am reminded of the anecdote of the famous Father Michael Vaughan SJ, who travelled with a most obstreperous fellow passenger on a train long ago. When the man alighted at his station Fr Vaughan called after him: 'Hey you, you've left something behind!' When the man returned to enquire what it was he'd left behind, the Jesuit replied in his normal mordantly wity way: 'You've left behind a very bad impression.' I fear I am not the only one thus affected by Dr Furtardo. Many have said this and it seems to be water off a duck's back. How sad he can't seem to carry on a civil conversation. Perhaps he should keep his discourse within the world of academia. I understand it is par for the course there.

Edward Fido | 05 November 2021  

Sorry, Edward, for challenging the assertions of some who post. Why don't you tell us why you think Priti Patel is such a good UK Home Secretary or does your politeness cloak your assumed dislike of Catholic Social Teaching, which happens to undergird much of what is published here? Its alright to say you disagree but when that's dressed up in passive-aggressive persiflage one is surely entitled to present an alternative point of view.

Michael Furtado | 05 November 2021  

If I have presented as grandstanding or abusive when I intend to champion those who either don't have a voice or who have been drowned, I apologise. To introduce the witty remark of a Jesuit to justify your declaratory posts prompts me to say that, like the Jesuits who formed me, I value sobriety and keen argument over bombast and hyperbole. It seems to me reasonable then to deduce that you regard this forum as no more than an opportunity to offload your opinions but not defend them. To additionally affect to speak for others on a tense and highly fraught subject in which both emotions and arguments compete for high stakes compounds your mistake by co-opting others to your cause. I would like to think that, as a Jesuit site that encourages vigorous participation from all quarters, ES also stubbornly declines to play to the lowest common denominator in its choice of topics and presenters. While you and those who agree with you are welcome to state your objections to the ideas and values promoted here, there is no carte blanche to participate without risk of interrogation. That hallmarks the position of all who aspire to intelligence, not intellectualism.

Michael Furtado | 22 November 2021  

'I value sobriety and keen argument over bombast and hyperbole.' Insomnia, sleep writing or building a statue to yourself?

roy chen yee | 23 November 2021  

Michael, I think its fair to take you to task in relation to your derogatory comments about the quality of reader contributed comments and replies; irrespective of the nature of the argument, what you determine as "sheep bleats" can also be construed as a group in collective agreement of similar construct. While neither proves right or wrong you then extend your support for the conspiracy theory, such that, stating: "the drowned are left to roam about relentlessly asking...". That seems a fairly weird statement to assert and seems to me disrespectful of the victims, their families and "our" authorities you accuse. I don't choose to dissect it further than an unlicensed emotional pleading that wholly relies on unproved malfeasance by "our politicians and armed forces". If you can explain how the vessel recorded as sunk off Java coast which may have made the mobile phone (not radio) distress call to AMSA was in Australian waters please elucidate. AMSA contacted Indonesian BASARNAS; it is alleged BASARNAS failed to act. Try to cast aside the cloudy acrimony; state your case for your allegation.

ray | 05 November 2021  

I have no straightforward or cleanly plausible reply for what might be a justifiable complaint on your part, Ray. I do go in hard and I plead guilty to a lack of mercy and understanding of the extenuating circumstance that forms the basis of your assessment that not much more could have been done. That said, there's nothing emotional about a protest in regard to many hundreds of lives lost when it is unclear that those in charge had absolutely no idea about what was happening. In situations where lives are at stake, it is surely the business of those in authority to know, whether they subsequently claimed ignorance of events or not. While I cannot provide chapter and verse in terms of the detail that you request, the balance of proof favours Binoy's accusation that more could have been done and wasn't - a construction that convincingly explains the later much more base and emotional knee-jerk electoral reaction in its favour evoked by the 'queue-jumping' policy that transported Howard to power and which you implicitly and, alas, meretriciously defend. My respectful view is that, apart from my salacious use of words, you raise an accusation based primarily on semantics.

Michael Furtado | 09 November 2021  

Michael, thank you for the reply but I think you've avoided addressing your accusation: "what we did when our politicians and armed forces knew and kept silent while muffling their screams". You infer they knew and hushed the incident, deliberately, and failed to act. The acronym SIEV given is because it is only a Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel. There's various documentary records of Indonesia reprimanding Australian government vessels for entry to their patrolled zones to search SIEVs, it's an awful quandary which begs better controls but none are forthcoming. Smugglers make fake distress calls to authorities so they can transfer their cargo of unfortunates without the need to take them to the destination; this is rife in the Mediterranean and the authorities are in a cleft of perhaps responding to unwarranted emergency calls to be tricked into an immigrants transfer or perhaps not responding to a genuine call. I'm not particularly in support of the Howard model nor any other but if the result saves lives it is worthy, if not ideal. Any root cause analysis places the focus well before anybody set foot on a boat as a refugee; by definition, they were as much in peril then.

ray | 09 November 2021  

Thanks, Ray. So let's try to progress this conversation to the point that I would be happy to admit that my own solutions would correspond with those of thousands of asylum-seeker advocates in both 'frontline' Mediterranean states as well as Australia and who work in areas that vary from search and rescue missions to legal assistance and charitable resettlement. Granted then that some of those working in border control may well be charitably motivated, is there not a special kind of perversity that the very instrumentalities that they devise to rescue people are themselves responsible for also wiping their hands off them? Of course, I have never denied the complicity of those who profit by boat provision but this is demand-driven especially by those who wait ten years or more for orderly entry from refugee camps in SE Asia to Australia and elsewhere. The issue here isn't that Howard's deaf ear was impervious to the cry of the drowning but that his brain was evidently switched off to the complex factors implicating us in Australia that drive asylum-seekers from their war-torn lands to make it elsewhere to safety and relative stability. There are surely differences of moral proportionality/culpability in this.

Michael Furtado | 11 November 2021  

Michael, again, thanks for a response but I don't follow that your proffered diversion to seek an agreement of sorts addresses the stated accusation. Similarly, you may believe you know what Howard or other officials think, thought or know or knew but you cannot unless they make an admission. The government passes laws and the officials have a duty to perform within those constraints; Frank Brennan's ES article which identifies the obscurity of the words "until" and "obligation" as relates to the Migration Act (1958) should be a driver to refugee advocates to observe where their NGO focus and efforts could remedy perceived delays. Just the date of 1958 should be an indication that things don't change much aside from tinkering around the edges. The Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014 came in long after John Howard was gone. In the shadow of SIEV X, Tampa and many other human tragedies I find it unfortunate that refugee advocates are apparently still ineffective at identifying the risks until another event happens but willing to blame authorities when it does. Look to the hierarchy of controls...at least start there.

ray | 12 November 2021  

P.S. Dear Edward, I wish to differentiate Priti Patel's commendable success as an entrepreneurial migrant to Britain, and which you rightly applaud, from her miserly attitude as UK Home Secretary to those who arrive after her. The rank and file of South Asian migrants from East Africa settled in Birmingham, Leicester and Bradford, where they have largely made a great economic success of themselves in regions that had become uninhabitable, high-unemployment, post-industrial rust-buckets. However, unlike her, they have been bastions of employment support for those who have come after her. The UK Tory Party, appalled by the shambles that leaving Europe now constitutes for its political future, has found in Ms Patel an acceptable anti-immigrant champion to help trounce UK Labour and beat Nigel Farage's Reform (formerly UKIP) Party at the polls. Cheering from the sidelines and occasioning critical comments from UK policy analysts about 'Dirty Diggers', has been our very own Tony Abbott, who has recently been doing the rounds of Eastern European capitals now on the frontline of asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, urging conservative leaders there, almost all of them Catholic, to ignore Pope Francis and secure their borders by opening extra-jurisdictional camps from where they can be deported.

Michael Furtado | 08 November 2021  

‘miserly attitude as UK Home Secretary….’ The UK is in the same position as NZ would be if the boat people now here were to abscond and set across the ditch for it. You can’t get to the UK except through Western Europe. Why should Patel expect those seeking protection not to have found it in the rich liberal democracies just off the UK coast?

roy chen yee | 09 November 2021  

An excellent demonstration of your grasp of the geopolitics of migration, Roy, as well as a valid question that has its answer in the fallen human nature that you unsparingly drive home on this site (and for which I have the greatest of respect, in case you hadn't noticed). Patel is simply passing the buck, unlike NZ, Canada and the Scandinavians, who, despite the distance that allegedly safeguards them from those who plead 'Et clamor meus ad Te veniat', are not impervious to their cries and have opened their borders to them, and which, incidentally, points to yet another nail driven home in the coffin of our reputation, as we chide those countries for their humanity!

Michael Furtado | 11 November 2021  

Unlike sins of the body which are intrinsic evils, due in no small part to the fact that it takes only one decision-maker, the owner of the body, to prevent the sin from existing, social disturbances are prudential evils because the alignment of many minds and wills are required to remove the problem.

The asylum seeker issue is a bottomless pit because there is, at the moment, no cure for the main cause, misgovernment in the home societies, most of which proudly trumpeted their destiny to make their own futures independent of colonial powers, and have since, with great fanfare about autonomy, gone to ruin, like adolescents in love with the raw, throbbing power of a very fast car. Dealing with the rest of the problem is only treating symptoms, like thinking how best to peel the adolescent from the tree.

That the UK and Australia should do their best to adopt as many as practicable of the unfortunates living in UN camps is a given, and perhaps criticism can be applied to the pace at which this is happening, but their doing so is only what your Canada, NZ and Scandinavia are doing, adopting from afar, not opening the border gates to anybody who just happens to turn up. Anyway, your analysis is flawed because, similarly to the UK, you can’t get to Canada, NZ or Scandinavia without stopping to catch a breath at another rich liberal democracy and, as far as I know, Russia isn’t transiting anyone to Alaska, British Columbia, Finland or Norway.

roy chen yee | 12 November 2021  

Michael writes that "unlike NZ, Canada and the Scandinavians, who, despite the distance that allegedly safeguards them ...are not impervious to their cries and have opened their borders to them." This is incorrect. NZ has been criticised for its low rate of refugees. One of the lowest rates of developed nations. Much lower than Australia. https://theconversation.com/new-zealand-has-one-of-the-lowest-numbers-of-refugees-per-capita-in-the-world-there-is-room-for-many-more-162663
The largest beneficiary of Operation Sovereign Borders is New Zealand. Canada similarly avoids the moral hard points of the asylum seeker issue. Toughest borders to the south, ice to the north, oceans. Canada buckled when faced with border crossings and signed a contract with Trump when confronted by Costa Ricans fleeing the USA. This treaty contravened international laws. Canada has also beefed its border protections.
The Scandinavians are strained with the rise of anti migrant parties. Finland is insisting on returns of refugees to areas of Syria. Other nations are now issuing temporary visas. Europe has a new tough anti immigrant policy that will prevent the movement north from southern Europe. There has been a significant pivot in attitudes in Scandinavian nations.
All this is very complex. Not so simple.

John | 12 November 2021  

I have no wish to engage with any of the comments being thrown around in response to this article. But if anyone truly wants to develop some commitment to trying to work out the age old challenges of welcoming refugees, then I would seriously suggest you visit the SIEV X memorial in Canberra, if you have not done so yet. The names of all those who died, the multiple names in the same families, the shorter poles indicating children, and the amazing artworks contributed from around our country, are well worth contemplating.

Beth Gibson | 05 November 2021  
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Searching out alternatives to dangerous paths for asylum seekers - policies that avoids this loss of life - is not “making them unwelcome.” I have mourned their deaths for twenty years. It was SeivX that politicised me on the issue. I will not accept boat deaths as some legitimate cost of seeking asylum. It is a global problem and we need a global answer. Find it.

John | 08 November 2021  

I am not sure who is distorting reality, Michael Furtardo, or looking through some very distorted spectacles. People like John Howard, or Priti Patel, whether you agree or disagree with them, are coming from a perfectly valid political point of view. It is a conservative one. Academics often seem a little adrift of reality and seem to see things in terms of black and white, whereas I would tend to see the international refugee problem/crisis as an incredibly complicated one. Not all purported refugees are pillars of virtue, in fact some of Saddam Hussein's security people, men with real blood on their hands, have sort refuge here and elsewhere. It also seems to me that when someone such as yourself launches a baseless ad hominem attack, with no basis in what another poster here has said, they have both lost their case and forfeited any respect they might have had.

Edward Fido | 09 November 2021  
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Thank you for a considered response Edward. This article linked below from the New York Times highlights the complexity being faced by countries such as Poland and Lithuania with Belarus. Binoy refers to this incident and others as evidence of "hardened hearts" and groups policies, events and incidents all together - Britain's boat turnback policy, inspired by Tony Abbott, is in the same basket as this cynical exploitation of people for a political motive in Eastern Europe, similar to Australia's hardline approach. In fact, they are quite different incidents, complex and nuanced but with the same thread - a situation with extraordinary challenges, desperate people risking lives, an asylum system unfit for purpose and why the urgent need for policies based on global cooperation. You won't find the answers to this contemporary crisis in this analysis. Its all just due to those "hardened hearts'. https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/11/10/world/poland-belarus-border-migrants#europe-shows-support-for-poland-as-crisis-at-the-border-deepens

John | 11 November 2021  

'The (12/XI) hierarchy of controls', to which you allude, Ray, informs me that those who work at the nearest available corner of the problem fulfill the ethical conditions for rescue and resettlement work that I see no evidence of the Australian government doing much about in terms of some aspects of the insightful analysis that John offers. Other than that, I'm afraid that, like Pilate, he caves into a kind of policy pusillanimity or paralysis that gets this conversation nowhere. I do know, from hearsay, that refugees, once inside the countries I mentioned, enjoy a far better deal than they do in Australia. Granted the work of cultural and structural change is heaps harder than the band-aids currently on offer, to claim Frank Brennan as a supporter is surely a gross distortion of the facts. He and Julian Burnside, both of them prominently involved from JRS & ACU in their jurisprudential work, have never allowed Roy's 'blame-the-victim' approach, disdainful of any informed economic and structural analysis of the complex factors that drive migration and which now include climate change, to corrupt their stentorian efforts. As for others who object, a fumigated stench cannot occlude the dead body still awaiting burial.

Michael Furtado | 14 November 2021  
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‘ 'blame-the-victim' approach, disdainful of any informed economic and structural analysis of the complex factors that drive migration and which now include climate change,….’

This sounds like a blanket if-they-get-here-let-them-stay-approach. Fine. How do you make that policy work afterwards, given that the refugee issue is a bottomless pit, and that even if all the refugees in the world can’t get here, the ones who do can apply, under Minister Furtado’s soft policy, for bringing family across? The question is not accepting applicants for protection, it’s how to make the burgeoning population work afterwards.

Let’s do, as Minister Furtado would want, abolish detention. Let’s release all applicants for protection into the community. Let those of them who can breed breed with, oh forget whites, browns and yellows, let’s pick Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders. Let’s have a situation where single applicants can prove (and quite sincerely so) that they are in a committed relationship with a First Nations individual and can show a half-First Nations toddler. You can’t separate a toddler from a genetic parent (well, you can if you’re same-sex but that’s another story) and you can’t exile a half First Nations toddler to a foreign country.

Blog Correspondent Furtado doesn’t have the same responsibility as Minister Furtado (or Minister Dutton) to see the situation in its entirety although one would suspect that, like Blog Correspondent Furtado, Minister Furtado would stand in the House or Senate to defend his flawed vision with the same verbal chicanery that he uses here.

If you want to tell us what to do, tell us how it will work.

roy chen yee | 15 November 2021  

Roy, you sidetrack us with a device that Gilbert & Sullivan employed (sorry they beat you to it) to make fun of the preposterous though laugh-provoking Pooh-Bah in 'The Mikado'. Granted then that you are of Chinese extraction, as you once cautioned, that doesn't admit confusing you with the Japanese, even if we Asian-Australians, like so much else on the outer reaches of your fervid imagination, are parodied on the stereotypical comic-operatic scales of a quaintly Victorian 'Widow Twanky' Grand Dame pantomime fan, you might examine the correspondence between Sir Edward Boyle, Conservative MP for Birmingham Handsworth, who did exactly as you suggest I might, and fought tooth and nail to have East African Asian refugees allowed into Britain when Amin pushed them out and Powell rabidly (objective description, not abusive) ranted against them in his 'Rivers of Blood' tirade. Boyle, a devout Anglican, met fierce opposition from three fellow Tories: Peregrine Worsthorne, John Biggs-Davison and Patrick Wall, all of them Catholic, though as we see on this site, with what provenance in Christ's values, is anybody's guess. Sometimes it matters to stand up for what is right, especially against the lunacies of those more interested in hybridity than virtue.

Michael Furtado | 16 November 2021  

200 words of song and dance with smoke and mirrors because at the end of it, was there an answer to ‘If you want to tell us what to do, tell us how it will work’? No. Sir E. Boyle wasn’t talking about a bottomless pit. So, you don’t know what to do about the problem except virtue signal (which, of course, is just another look-at-me form of narcissism).

roy chen yee | 17 November 2021  

200 words is the standard Eureka Street allowance for eloquent bonhomie where responses to your purple posts are concerned. Not that I expect you to change your mind but if summation is what you're after, my answer is that sometimes the situation is so complex that all one can do is to stand-up to racist red-necks baying for blood. Boyle did that and lost his parliamentary seat as well as his job as Education Minister. Whatever his fate, his reputation, unlike your's, remained unscathed and the Queen bestowed the highest personal accolade available to her by appointing him a Companion of Honour. How come, given the stubborn reputation you have for sticking to your guns when the battlefield is strewn with corpses and you are left ranting about the four deadly sins and berating errant Jesuits for not ramming that curative message down our collective throats, that you cannot find it within yourself to commend the integrity and determination of those who stick to their principles? BTW, I'm pretty sure that I was a fly on the wall when, foreseeing your posts, Morag Fraser, ES' Foundation Editor, emerged from a seance, remarking that it would take 200 words to respond.

Michael Furtado | 17 November 2021  

Take 2 and still no answer to the question to whatever your plan is (if you have one), how’s it going to work?

‘to commend the integrity and determination of those who stick to their principles?’ Because there is no integrity because they have no plan on how to make their principles work. Is it so hard to tell us how it’ll work?

In fact, this comes to mind: ‘Who will tell us? Where are those goals identified and published? If not, why not? …. Let's have concrete, identifiable signposts, standards and goals….’ (Assessing the plenary: a work in progress, 17/11/2021). Good stuff, rah-rah man, so how about we take your advice, skip the ‘fervorino’ and abide by the principle that what’s good for the gerry should be equally so for the gander?

roy chen yee | 18 November 2021  

, Roy, I've already covered the complexity of resolution on so complex a question but the Glasgow Summit and recent meeting between Biden, Trudeau and Obrador lead the way. N.America has a good chance in our lifetime of solving it: fair elections, conserve the rainforests, put an end to the drug trade, encourage more tango ;) Europe (the UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Belgium) take responsibility for their colonial past and make reparations to the African nations, while ensuring that these are supervised by the UN to meet development goals. Australia should take responsibility for Middle Eastern refugees considering that we have been engaged in many theatres of war there. We are likely to be importers of population for the foreseeable future since our selfish native population would prefer to spend its wealth on material goods rather than on children. As a capitalist I take my cues from the Hmong who have made a marvelous go of it in Tasmania where they have developed the cool-climate market garden industry that feeds us. I'd take the Kurds, who as a refugees have brought a very welcome version of Islam with them as well as the Hazaras.

Michael Furtado | 19 November 2021  

 The recent horrific events in the English Channel - a much shorter distance than the SIEV X's journey - once again brings home the incredible dangers of this form of refuge seeking, especially when these unfortunates put themselves in the hands of criminals to obtain 'safe' passage. The Swedish and German examples - a backlash in the two most generous countries in Europe in absorbing huge numbers of conservative Sunni Muslim refugees from Syria, who refused to comply with the normally accepted behavioural patterns of their hosts, but wanted all the tangible benefits of these societies - is not a good sign. A large proportion of these refugees would have been from Isis controlled areas and of these a proportion are probably Isis supporters. Isis is Sunni fundamentalist. Both Sweden and Germany have well integrated Iranian communities. These were genuine objectors to the Ayatollahs' regime. Iranians are Shia and thus definitely not supportive of Isis. One of the reasons Christians and other minorities support the Assad regime in Syria is because they know what fate awaits them under an Islamic 'Caliphate'. Christians have already fled Iraq in huge numbers. Being a Christian in most of the Middle East means you are part of an endangerd species.

Edward Fido | 29 November 2021  
Show Responses


I suppose Saudi Arabia is doing what it can and it seems to be accommodating quite a few people who would otherwise be refugees and asylum seekers elsewhere, but how does it do it? By the fact that illiberalism can do things cheaper than liberal democracy.

If we had no minimum wage, embraced feudalism and made servants sleep on the floor in the kitchen, we could absorb hundreds of thousands of people with no language or other skills. But, supporting a person in the iron lung of western liberal democracy (a minimum wage, free time, personal living space at the normative health and comfort standards of the community, etc.) is gigantically expensive.

Flag waving the Biloela family is virtue signalling. If anyone can show how, in the iron lung of western liberal democratic social economics, you can solve the problem of absorbing multiples of Biloela family, feel free to step up and say how.

However, the rocket fuel of the refugee problem is dysfunction at home. We’ve never had armadas of Chinese Communist refugees, or Indians, or Japanese. After WW2, there were no oxcart loads of refugees out of Germany. Japanese and Chinese got out of their respective quicksands by staying home to become workhouses of cheap, skilled labour, China starting really late only 43 years ago, Germany and Japan starting early and fixing their problems within 20 years by the mid-1960s, India barely starting even now, and Africa hasn’t even begun.

It’s not as if you need much education to show people how to make stuff by rote at the factory floor.

It’s not as if Africa can’t outbid China in wages, or Central America which is only a tiny supply chain away from one of China’s biggest markets.

Speaking of proximity to one of China's biggest markets, the suppression of Cuba's potential to export to the US by the Communist Party is a historical crime and I'm not sure why Haiti has to be the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere.

If it's possible to jumpstart a nation of 956 million people in 1978, there's no excuse for not being able to jumpstart any nation. if a nation is still poor in 2021, there's something wrong that they're doing.

roy chen yee | 29 November 2021  

Won't be read now, but for the record, here is the real truth of the humanity expressed by Australian sailors and the impact on them of meeting asylum seeker boats on the open oceans. Massive emotional and psychological impact, suicide etc. From the Royal Commission into Veteran Suicides. I feel it puts to shame the claims about "hardened hearts" made here. Done so with spurious evidence. https://www.theage.com.au/national/queensland/bodies-scattered-sailor-recalls-seeing-baby-in-ocean-as-part-of-operation-resolute-20211209-p59g4r.html

John | 10 December 2021  

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