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Australian Government Reshuffle Adnd The Siev X


Australian Government Reshuffle, Siev X , And Egypt Trial

Reports indicate some of the seven SIEV X survivors living in Australia have accepted a recent Australian Federal Police (AFP) offer to cover travel costs, enabling them to testify in the trial of alleged people smuggler Abu Quassey (Mootaz Muhammad Hasan) in Egypt when the trial resumes on 25 October, 2003.

With the latest Cabinet reshuffle, one of the main agents of the Howard Government's infamous border protection policy, Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock, moves to the key national security portfolio of Attorney-General's. Because now terrorism - not people smuggling - is being portrayed as Australia's main enemy. People smuggling has also virtually disappeared from the AFP lexicon. Like SIEV X , it could be a phrase the AFP would like to forget. For AFP, the trial in Cairo may simply be a tidying-up exercise.

Other Ministers most responsible for the border protection policy - Hill ( who replaced Reith as Minister for Defence three weeks after SIEV X) and Ellison (Justice and Customs, responsible for Australian Federal Police) remain in place. Both are on a roll, as national security occupies centre stage of the Howard government's policy agenda.

The Government and the AFP are yet to confirm the nature of their assistance to the SIEV X survivors, or to the Court in Egypt.

WHERE ARE THE SIEV X EYEWITNESSES NOW?

It is a universal legal principle that in the interests of securing justice in an alleged major crime, efforts should be made to obtain testimony from as many as possible of the witnesses to that alleged crime.

Testimony by eye-witness survivors will hopefully serve the cause of securing justice in this major trial. But a handful of brave survivors from Australia who have suffered so much already should not have to carry the whole heavy burden of court testimony in this alleged crime.

Only seven of the SIEV X survivors are in Australia. Under Australia's notorious Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) legislation, even these seven SIEV X survivors live in uncertainty as to whether they will be allowed to remain.

The more survivor witnesses that are able and willing to testify in person, or to furnish sworn written testimony to the Court from the countries where they are now living, the more the Court will be assisted to determine the full facts in this matter. International efforts are now building for the Court to be able to access a far wider range of eye-witness survivor testimony. It is clear from media reports that cross-examination of prosecution witnesses by Quassey's defence will be professional and rigorous.

This trial does not "belong to" Australia, though Australia has a special duty of care to the seven SIEV X survivors in Australia. It is a trial that concerns the right to life of asylum-seeker boat people, anywhere in the world.

There are up to 79 living witnesses who took part in SIEV X's doomed journey. Are the 72 potential witnesses outside Australia, most of whom have found refuge in other countries, being offered similar financial assistance and encouragement by concerned organisations or governments, if they wish to testify at this important trial?

There are 45 survivors of the actual sinking, 7 in Australia on TPVs, and 38 living in other countries (including Canada, Finland, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden) under permanent refugee protection. Among these, a few may have voluntarily returned to Iraq since the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime. To these 38 persons may be added two other living groups of potential witnesses: the 10 people who reportedly paid bribes to police to be allowed not to embark on the overloaded boat when it left from the Bandar Lampung area, southern Sumatra, and the 21-24 Mandaean passengers who, fearing for their lives, paid a passing fishing boat to take them off SIEV X as it passed an island in the Sunda Strait, a few hours into their journey. This makes a possible total of up to 72 potentially available witnesses, in addition to those survivors in Australia who are reported as willing to go to Ca

It is believed (on the basis of AFP replies to Senate questions on notice) that the Australian Federal Police, the UNHCR and IOM would have access to the names and present whereabouts of most if not all of these 72 survivors living outside Australia.

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