Unbearable grief

Perth Sunday Times
SUN 28 OCT 2001

Iraqi man loses 15 family in Indonesian boat tragedy

AN Iraqi man living in Perth last night told how he had lost 15 members of his family in the boat tragedy off Indonesia.

Mohammad Alghazzi, 29, told The Sunday Times -- through an interpreter -- that he had lost his wife, three children, his brother and sister-in-law and their children, leaving him without any family. Mr Alghazzi and his wife, Rgad Alsadi, 27, had been married for nine years. They had three children -- Ream, 10, Ali Almutth, 5, and Mohammed Almonther, 4.

Mr Alghazzi's hope that his family were among survivors of the October 19 tragedy was shattered when he received official confirmation this week they were among the 356 people who drowned.

Mr Alghazzi joined other Iraqis last night as the Islamic community gathered to pray for members who had lost relatives in the disaster.

There was an outpouring of grief as 1400 people packed the Altawheed Islamic Association WA centre in Eden Hill.

Men and boys said prayers in the main hall and women mourned in another room.

Mr Alghazzi said he appreciated the support.

'Living without my family it is going to be really hard for me but all the Iraqi community supporting me makes it easier. But in my case I am really very upset because I have lost everyone.'

Mr Alghazzi said he had feared for his family's safety, having made the boat trip from Iraq himself.

Mr Alghazzi came by boat from Iraq to Australia two years ago to flee from Saddam Hussein's regime.

He spent a year in the Curtin Detention Centre in Port Hedland before gaining a temporary visa, which has enabled him to stay and work full-time. His wife and children stayed in Iraq but fled to Syria shortly after Mr Alghazzi left because of the weakening stability in their homeland.

The plan was for them to join Mr Alghazzi in Australia as soon as it could be arranged.

But once his wife realised their opportunities were not much better in Syria, she organised for her children and herself to head for Jakarta by boat, en route to Australia.

It was supposed to be a surprise arrival but it went horribly wrong. When Mr Alghazzi received a phone call from his wife in Indonesia telling him of their plans, he had a gut feeling about their fate. 'I had the feeling they were going to die,' Mr Alghazzi said repeatedly.

'I had done the trip myself and I knew the risks -- I knew it was too dangerous. But they didn't really have any choice. They couldn't stay in Jakarta and they couldn't return to Syria. No one did anything to help them come here legally.'

He urged his wife to get a visa from the United Nations to enter Australia legally, even if it took more time. But Mr Alghazzi claimed the UN said it could not help his family. Instead, they paid about $2000 -- partly paid for by a relative living in America --for the family to board a boat bound for Australia. Mr Alghazzi asks only one thing of the Australian Government: 'They didn't help me see my family when they were alive, now I just ask them to help bury my family.' His temporary visa does not allow him to leave the country, but wants an exemption to be made.

Six people who attended the gathering had lost family members. Hazam Al Rowaimi lost his mother, wife and four children.

photo captions: MOURNING: Hazam Alrowaimi (headdress) whose mother, wife and four children died in the tragedy in the Java Sea.

TRAGIC: Mohammad Alghazzi whose wife and children drowned.

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