Fathers mourn lost daughters

Thursday, 25 October, 2001
The Daily Telegraph

TEN days ago, six girls called their fathers from public phones in Indonesia, excited about seeing them for the first time in two years and ready to start a new life of "peace and freedom" in Australia.

They had been travelling for more than a month with their mothers - flying from Iran to Malaysia, then Indonesia - before getting ready to board a dilapidated fishing boat for the final leg.

"I want to be with you again, father, I want to see you," Eman, 8, told Ahmed Alazami as he sat in his Warwick Farm unit.

And clutching the last photograph of his three daughters, Ali-Mehdi Sobie, of Auburn, yesterday recalled the last words spoken by his 14-year-old daughter Donya on Monday last week.

"It's very hard to live without you," she told him.

But the family reunions never happened. The girls drowned when, with 350 others, they were forced at gunpoint on to an overloaded Indonesian fishing boat, which sank in heavy seas off the Sunda Strait last Friday.

The fathers last night blamed the Federal Government's hard line stand on asylum seekers as they mourned their daughters.

Ahmed Alazami said he warned his wife, Sondos Ismail, in a tearful phone conversation last week not to make the journey, equally concerned about treacherous weather conditions and the tough government stand of turning asylum seekers around in the middle of the ocean.

Pictures of a distraught Mrs Ismail, 26, were published in The Daily telegraph yesterday as she grieved in a Jakarta guesthouse for daughters Eman, 8, Zhra, 6, and Fatimah, 5.

Mrs Ismail, who had paid people smugglers $10,000 in Indonesia, was one of the few asylum-seekers wearing a lifevest but was unable to save her children.

When Mr Alazami saw his wife's picture yesterday he broke down and cried: "My children, my children are gone.

"We wanted to be a happy, free family. "I told [my wife] not to come; it was too dangerous and the government of Australia didn't want us.

"[She said] we don't have any choice, we want to be with you."

The former teacher, who fled Iraq for Iran with his wife in 1988, said his family wanted a life in Australia free from political persecution. He left Iran in 1999, paying $10,000 to people smugglers to bring him to Australia.

He hoped he would achieve asylum status after his arrival off the north-west coast on November 1, 1999.

After 10 months in the Curtin detention centre, Mr Alazami moved to Brisbane then Sydney, looking for work and trying to appeal to the government for his family to He was told he would have to wait at least five years in the uncertain hope of getting permanent residency.

"They [the family] couldn't wait so long, they wanted to see their father," said Mohammed Al-Mousawi, Mr Alazami's brother-in-law. Mr Al-Mousawi's wife Khadigeh Ismail - Mrs Ismail's sister - also drowned on Friday after paying people smugglers US$3000.

Ali-Mehdi Sobie, of Auburn, yesterday blamed the Federal Government for losing his "hope for the future" - wife Zaynab, 31, and daughters Donya, 14, Marva, 12, and Hajaran, 10. Zaynab Sobie's desperation to get to Australia consumed her life for three years and saw her save $10,000 to pay the people smugglers, as well as buying fake Iraqi passports to get out of the Middle East.

Clutching to the last picture of his daughters yesterday, Mr Sobie read the message written on the back : "The best 'hellos' are sent to you."

"I told them 'no, don't come here', the Australian people are sympathetic to us but the government wants to drive us out," Mr Sobie said through an interpreter.

"John Howard and Philip Ruddock caused this disaster. They played a big [role] in my family's death because they are not at all compassionate people. I am asking God to take my life. I want to see them again."

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