He Lost 14 Members Of His Family In The Ship Catastrophe

El Telegraph (Arabic language newspaper published in Sydney)
Issue #3792
November 2001

Al-Ghazi to the Telegraph: Allow us to bury them here or at least let us go to identify their bodies with the guarantee that we will be able to return.

The tragedy of the sinking of the Indonesian Ship opposite the shore of the island of Java two weeks ago which took the lives of 350 asylum seekers, with most casualties being Iraqi women and children, is still echoing and having a chain reaction. It has started to take political shape, capturing the attention of the whole world, considering it to be a tragedy involving those refugees who the government regarded as being illegal and against the law.

One most moving comment was from a refugee currently living in Sydney after being granted a temporary protection visa, and was reported in the Telegraph newspapers. He said his wife 'runaway from death to another death'. A refugee currently detained in Woomera Detention Centre said that before arriving in Australia 'if the sea is the obstacle between us, I would not hesitate once to cross it and if death is going to take us, first we belong to God and to God we shall return'.

Nevertheless, the story of one Iraqi refugee Ghazi Al-Ghazi says something far more tragic. And the whole world should light candles in sorrow and pain for the 14 members of his family who drowned in the destroyed ship.

Al Ghazi who originates from Al Nasereyah province, where he used to work as a barber, lost his wife and his four children (ages 10 years, 8 years, 7 years, and 4 years) along with his wife's sister and her children, and her brother and his children. While the Australian government still insists that they will not accept any responsibility, the opposition party tried to use this situation to influence the election by saying the government could lose power as they have failed to protect the shores from the boat people. Mr. Al-Ghazi believes no-one is more responsible for this tragedy than Canberra.

About this al-Ghazi said, 'If they allowed us to bring our families this would not have happened.'

When Mr Al-Ghazi departed Iraq, he could not afford to bring his family with him, because of the difficult circumstances in which he left. He arrived in Australia by sea in 2000 in a group identified as INN [1], the name for all the refugees who came with him through Indonesia on a boat carrying this name.,

Mr Al-Ghazi spent 7 months in Woomera Detention Centre until the seventh month of year 2000 when he was released on a Temporary Protection visa, a class of visa introduced after the Federal Government passed legislation by the Parliament late 1999.

This visa stated that the bearer would be allowed to stay in the country as a refugee for 3 years. After 30 months, he can apply for a Permanent Protection Visa. With a temporary visa, the refugee can get some medical treatment and a work permit, but will be deprived of education and is not able to bring his immediate family who are living outside Australia.

The Immigration Minister spokesperson answered the allegations made by Mr Al-Ghazi allegations and other Iraqi refugees who have lost members of their families. In a telephone conversation with the Telegraph they stated that the responsibility falls on the smugglers' shoulders and the part they played in their fate. He said the responsibility also falls upon the shoulders of the refugees themselves when the left their family to fend for themselves and did not think of their futures before they started the journey to Australia illegally. To add to that, these families travelled through a third country and they could ask for protection from that country. There was no need to gamble with their lives through the oceans. And they could have asked protection from Australia through the proper channels.

A well-known fact about the refugee problem is that it is not only a problem to Australia, but to most western countries that accept refugees through the UNHCR. The waiting period is long, it can take years of waiting, and the financial strain upon the refugee of the waiting becomes unbearable. That's why they then decide to venture into the ocean to Australia or Canada; or slip into enclosed spaces without ventilation or through the trains or the Munch tunnels as is the case in France and Brittan.

In this regard, Al-Ghazi said last Tuesday in an interview with the Telegraph, 'I had no other choice, that was my last option after it became obvious that I had lost hope of seeing my children because of the cruel condition of TPV. There was no other way but the sea to bring my wife and four children. But death was closer to them from me.'

There is no way to describe Al-Ghazi situation with simple words. When we interviewed him the words were coming out of his mouth with great difficulty, not even a whisper, and we saw he held his children's photos which arrived a few days before the tragedy struck and were published in the newspapers. On the back of it, a small note said 'To dear father with kisses'. Here Mr Al-Ghazi stopped talking for a brief moment, then he said 'I have lost everything, but I am pleading to the Australian Government to allow us to go and bury our dead family [members] according to our religion and then to allow us to come back. Or to permit us to bring our dead family members to Australia and to bury them near us.'

The Telegraph has directed the question to the Immigration Minister MR Philip Ruddock, but his official spokesperson assured us, that 'Australians will not stop anyone from leaving to bury their dead but cannot guarantee his return to Australia'. Their position was very clear from the beginning regarding this matter. When talking to humanitarian organisations, the spokesman is reported as saying, 'While we appreciate the feelings of the grieving families, we cannot stop thinking why the refugees did not think of their families' futures before they asked them to come in this way, even though the Government warned them of the dangers of coming this way aboard old boats'.

Its worth mentioning that just before Federal Parliament started its holiday break, the Government succeeded in passing a law with the help of the opposition, that gives the authority to the coastguards to turn back any ships to where they come from. It also instigated the Pacific Solution and discredited refugees sent to the neighbouring islands of Nauru and PNG at the expense of the Australian Government. The opposition leader Kim Beazley says, 'the solution could be reached by an agreement with Indonesia.

Al-Ghazi also said that he did not talk to the man responsible for the tragic ship, which killed 14 members of his family because the man named Abu Quasy is still on the run fearing prosecution by the Indonesian Authorities. Canberra has requested Indonesia to give up Abu Quasy to the Australian Authorities in order for him to stand trial in Australia

Iraqi refugee Abdullah Alsharef is a mechanical engineer. His wife is currently in Woomera Detention Centre. She came to Australia before the Tampa crisis and believes that the Australian Government does not see the refugees as humans, with value, and on this basis they turn them away.

Regardless of the situation, the question remains - Who will give Mr Al-Ghazi the ability to regain his life, his hope, and a place where he can light a candle in the memory of his dead family, when they left without saying good-bye?

NOTES (by SIEVX.com)

1. INN is presumably the boat codenamed Innisfail by DIMA, which arrived at Ashmore Reef on 2 November 2000. The real name of this boat was Sejarah Masa. See Database of Asylum Seeker Boats online at: http://sievx.com/dbs/boats/

[article translated by JASSER SAMARDALI and edited and provided to sievx.com by Sue Hoffman. Minor grammatical edits by sievx.com]

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