Saif Shamkhi arrived in Australia in 2002 with his mother and two younger siblings as refugees from the Middle East, his journey commencing in 1999 as a teenager fleeing persecution.
Saif Shamkhi was born in 1987 in the Middle East. He comes from a minority faith from Iraq and Iran called Mandaeanism - believed to be one of the oldest monotheistic religions in the world. As a child, Saif attended an American school and learnt to speak both Arabic and English, which assisted him later in Australia.
Saif arrived in Australia in 2002 with his mother and two younger siblings as refugees from the Middle East, his journey commencing in 1999 as a teenager fleeing persecution. He spent years hiding in Jordan and South East Asia before boarding the wooden vessel SIEV IV in Lampung in Sumatra, Indonesia, bound for Christmas Island.
The boat was first spotted by a RAAF P3 Orion. They were boarded by the Boarding Party Team from HMAS Adelaide (FFG class RAN frigate) in International waters, then the ship's boarding party disembarked. The boat was shadowed by HMAS Adelaide until it entered Australian waters, at which time HMAS Adelaide fired warning shots across the bow of SIEV-IV before boarding the vessel once more. Saif and his mother were the main English/Arabic interpreters for the SIEV-IV. The boat's bilge pumps failed and started taking on too much water. At that point HMAS Adelaide's Boarding Party Team disembarked SIEV-IV which caused the asylum seekers onboard to hand over their babies to the Boarding Party Team to save them from drowning which led to the infamous Children Overboard saga. HMAS Adelaide deployed life rafts as the SIEV was sinking. Many asylum seekers were rescued by HMAS Adelaide's RHIBs (Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats) transferring them to the life rafts or HMAS Adelaide's ladders. Other people had to swim themselves to the life rafts.
HMAS Adelaide transported the asylum seekers to Christmas Island where they were held in a gymnasium/makeshift detention centre for a few days. They were then transferred via RAAF C-130 Hercules from Christmas Island to Manus Island, PNG. Saif and his family were detained there for nine months. They were all finally granted asylum in Australia in 2002 and settled in south-west Sydney.
In 2008, Saif joined the Royal Australian Navy, because he was keen to give something back to the nation. His family were not at first supportive due to their experiences of conscription and military life in Iraq. He was an electronics technician with other duties as an Arabic interpreter during border protection operations (Operation Resolute). Saif was discharged from the Permanent Service in the Navy and transferred to the Active Reserves in July 2017.
Saif is also an artist (describing himself as a 'hobbyist') and particularly enjoys depicting the ocean. He reflects that 'being a Navy veteran and a recreational diver I've always been drawn to the sea. I've been drawing and painting off and on ever since I was a child, but only got back into it around 2011 while on deployments out at sea; I would mostly draw my surroundings.' (January 2017) One of his artworks is included in an exhibition organised by the Australian National Veterans Arts Museum at Collins Place Gallery in Melbourne, 25 March-25 April 2018.