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Let's not forget the SIEV-X

By Susan Metcalfe - posted Tuesday, 17 June 2008

“My name is Amal, in English it means hope.”

Hope, a documentary by Steve Thomas and Sue Brooks, is Amal Hassan Basry’s story. Through Amal’s journey, Hope embraces both the resilience and the fragility of all human beings who, through no fault of their own, find themselves exiled from their homes and forced to make dangerous journeys to find a safe haven for themselves and their children.

In October 2001, an Indonesian fishing boat now referred to as SIEV-X (Suspected Illegal Entry Vessel, “X” for unknown) went down in the sea on its way to Australia.


For 22 hours in a dark and unknown ocean, Amal Basry held tightly to a dead woman’s body to stay afloat, believing her son and all the other passengers had died. Amal talked to the woman throughout the night, “waiting for the angel of death” to also take her away.

Survivors estimate that about 100 people were still alive in the sea after the boat capsized but only 45, including Amal, were found breathing when fishing vessels arrived on the scene more than 20 hours later. Among the 353 passengers known to have died were 146 children, 142 women and 65 men; they were all seeking asylum in Australia.

Hope is not a film about right versus left, nor does it dwell on the opinions of politicians, commentators or advocates. There is no vitriolic debate about outsiders, no labelling, no intellectual argument. Hope does what the documentary form does best; it brings to life the human subject and restores the human dignity that volatile debates can often strip away.

Within a compelling personal narrative the politicised events connected to Amal Basry’s journey can be seen within a broader and more humanly identifiable context, providing a welcome relief from the fast track of news grabs which dominate the way we receive most of our information these days.

Amal fled Iraq with her family after the disappearance and death of family members and the arrest and torture of her husband Abbas in 1997. Amal says she could never before have imagined being forced to leave her homeland, “but Saddam’s regime damaged our lives”.

The family survived in Iran for a while but Amal and her husband knew that they could not stay indefinitely. So Abbas travelled alone to seek sanctuary in Australia and after eight months in Woomera Detention Centre he was accepted as a refugee.


But Australian government policy since 1999 meant that Abbas was given only a three-year temporary protection visa (TPV) and he could not leave the country or sponsor his family to join him. Now separated indefinitely from her husband, Amal decided that there was no other option but to set out on a boat with one of her sons to reunite with Abbas in Australia.

Like many before her, Amal believed the people smugglers when they said that the boat arranged for their travel was a big boat with “radio, satellite, safe jackets, food, bathroom”. But the SIEV-X was in fact a small and unsafe boat, without adequate facilities or life jackets, and overloaded with four times the number of passengers it was built to carry. It is only surprising that the boat was able to stay afloat at all in the rough seas and that anyone was able to survive when the vessel finally went under.

Back in Indonesia after the tragedy, Amal became one of only seven survivors offered a Temporary Protection Visa to come to Australia, while others were found resettlement places in Scandinavian countries.

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Hope will be screening around Australia at selected cinemas for a limited season from June 19, 2008, to coincide with World Refugee Day on June 20.

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About the Author

Susan Metcalfe is a writer and researcher who made many independent visits to the Nauru detention centre during the time of the Howard government’s Pacific Solution policy. She is the author of the recently published book The Pacific Solution (Australian Scholarly Publishing

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