One hundred people gathered in Brisbane’s King George Square on October 22 to commemorate the tragedy of the SIEV X, an Indonesian fishing boat bound for Australia, which sank on October 19, 2001, drowning 353 asylum seekers — 146 of them children.
The rally and the march through the city was organised by the Refugee Action Collective (RAC).
A RAC statement said: “The Australian government knew of this disaster and allowed these refugees, fleeing war and persecution, to die.
“With the recent protests by detainees in Darwin, and the current Labor government overseeing the deaths of more refugees, there has never been a more important time to have a public demonstration of support for refugee rights, and to make sure the SIEV X disaster doesn't happen again.”
Pamela Curr, from the Melbourne-based Asylum Seekers Resource Centre (ASRC), told the rally: “We're here to remember what happened nine years ago, with refugees in boats on the high seas attempting to reunite with their families.
Others have drowned in recent times off Indonesia, attempting to flee to Australia because they have no alternative. The Indonesian detention centres are even worse than ours.
- Children out of detention?
- Pics of Sydney SIEV X commemoration rally and march
- Video of Sydney SIEV X commemoration rally and march
“People are living in black holes, with no human rights. It is only in the last few months that finally 500 refugees have been admitted to Australia from Indonesia.
“There is no flood of asylum seekers into Australia. Let's welcome these people into our country, not condemn them."
Other speakers included Fay Waddington from RAC, Andrew Bartlett from the Greens, an Iraqi refugee, Tracey Foley from Amnesty International and refugee rights activist Frederika Steen.
In Sydney on October 23, 300 people rallied at Town Hall. The crowd heard from Sally McManus from the Australian Services Union; Phil Glendenning from the Edmund Rice Centre; Michael Dudley from Suicide Prevention Australia; Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon, and Dan Burke from the Refugee Action Coalition.
The speakers addressed the SIEV X tragedy, the continuing inhumane treatment of asylum seekers by Australian governments, the mental trauma suffered by detainees and the racist undertones of the refugee issue in Australia.
Black balloons, with the names of the 353 SIEV X victims and the 27 asylum seekers who have died in detention since 2001, were handed out to participants at the rally.
Despite worsening weather, protesters remained in high spirits, responding enthusiastically to a call for more rallies in the future.
In Perth, about 100 people rallied outside immigration department offices.