Survivor saw ships in rescuing distance

By Penelope Debelle
June 20 2002

Photo caption: Reunion and loss ... Najah Zubaydi hugs close her daughters, Anfal, centre, and Naba, at reunion in Adelaide. She also holds up a picture of her baby son, Karrar, who drowned when the SIEV-X sank in October. The girls never knew their brother. Photo: Bryan Charlton

A survivor of the people smuggling tragedy in which 353 people died last October off the Java coast says three large grey ships were within rescue distance but failed to intervene.

Najah Zubaydi, an Iraqi asylum seeker who lost a sister, brother and baby son in the sinking of the SIEV X on October 19 says the engines of their boat stalled about noon the day after they left Indonesia and about 3pm began breaking up.

At dusk, Ms Zubaydi, who says she did not mention the boats until now for fear it would delay her visa to Australia, says she saw three large grey boats nearby shining lights into the water.

A group of young men including her brother, Haydar, 22, swam towards the boat to get help but apparently drowned. Speaking through an interpreter, Ms Zubaydi said others on her boat blew the whistles on their lifejackets but the ships did not respond.

Other survivors claimed that in the days after their rescue they were told the boats were Australian.

Videotaped interviews by members of Sydney's Iraqi community, who flew to Indonesia to provide counselling, show survivors saying they asked their Indonesian rescuers about the boats. "They told us that they were Australian border protection ships [navy ships]," a man said in a transcript provided to the Herald by a Muslim community spokesman, Keysar Trad.

"Has the Australian Government given orders not to rescue us? Not even the children?" he said in tears.

Ms Zubaydi was saved about a day after the boat sank but her 18-month-old son, Karrar, drowned, as did Haydar and her sister, Najla, 20.

Ms Zubaydi was speaking yesterday in Adelaide after being reunited last week with her two children, Anfal, nine, and Naba, eight, whom she had not seen since the family separated 20 months ago in Iran. The two girls travelled ahead with their grandparents and father, Kareem Al Sary.

Ms Zubaydi, 26, said any asylum seekers who objected to the condition of the boat when they were boarding were told they would not get their money back.

Ms Zubaydi was stranded in Indonesia until last week, unable to rejoin her daughters in Adelaide.

She had until March shared accommodation with another grief-stricken Iraqi woman, Sondos Ismail, whose three children also died. Ms Ismail was granted a temporary visa by Australia and is living with her husband in Sydney.

In May, Ms Zubaydi was admitted to hospital after suffering a breakdown caused by the stress of her separation from her surviving children.

"I felt very dehumanised, " she said of her treatment by Australian authorities. "I could not understand why I was being treated differently to Ms Ismail."

The navy has unequivocally denied that any navy vessel was within 150 nautical miles of SIEV-X when it sank.


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