SIEV X 3d - Like dead birds in the water


‘Like dead birds in the water’: Temporary Protection Visas as Technologies of Deterrence

Six people, including an infant, are bobbing up and down in the ocean while wearing life-jackets, debris floats around them. Another three people are still holding onto a boat that is mostly capsized. People are waving their hands for help.

[imagecaption] 12 Days in the Sea. Artist: Nasir Moradi. [/imagecaption]


The horror of the  sinking of SIEV X hit home in Australia because so many of the dead were children and women. Amal Basry, who became one of the most eloquent witnesses among the survivors, described the unforgettable sight of three infants who drowned in the very instant of their births, floating free from the bodies of their drowned mothers, ‘like dead birds in the water’. A photograph published on the front pages brought home the deaths of other children through the image of three young girls, sisters, who all perished together.

The large numbers of children and women among the dead (about 80% of those on board) is explained by the fact that many of those aboard were family members of men who had previously sought asylum by boat and had been granted three-year temporary protection visas (TPVs) to live in Australia. These visas do not allow for family reunion. Australia’s TPV policy thus can be seen to operate on the structural principle of breaking up families and disallowing them reunion except through unofficial means. The divisive TPVs emerge, then, as violent technologies of deterrence. Their brutal message is: ‘Come by boat and, even if you should be granted a visa, you will not be enabled to bring out your family.’


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