Orphaned survivor faces uncertain future
The Age
Friday 21 December 2001

Photo caption: Painful memories: Zaynab Alrimahi lost her family when a boat capsized off Java.Picture: BEN RUSHTON

The last words Zaynab Alrimahi heard her mother utter were a prayer.

Souad Alrimahi implored Allah to keep her five children safe as she put lifejackets on them and led her family to the top deck of the sinking vessel. Within seconds, the boat carrying more than 400 asylum seekers capsized in rough seas off the south-west coast of Java.

More than 350 people lost their lives that night two months ago. Among the dead were both Zaynab's Iraqi parents and all four of her siblings.

Zaynab's starkest memory was the sight of her six-year-old brother Mahmoud clinging to a plank as he choked to death on a deadly cocktail of seawater and fuel.

Yesterday, the 12-year-old asylum seeker was unable to speak of the tragedy. "This brings back too many painful memories," she said through an interpreter.

Arriving in Sydney from Jakarta, Zaynab has been reunited with the only surviving members of her extended family; her uncle, Alaaal Rimahi, her seven months' pregnant aunt Azhar and two-year-old cousin Ali. Mr Rimahi and his wife fled Iraq in 1995 and have since gained Australian citizenship.

Yesterday, the Rimahis' home saw Department of Community Services staff, police and senior Muslim figures come and go.

Although reticent on the past, Zaynab was eager to answer questions regarding her future.

"I want to go to school, get an education, learn how to speak English," she said. "I want to go to a school in my own community, and I want to stay with my uncle's family."

When asked about conditions in the Jakarta refugee camp that had been her home for the past two months, Zaynab said she was worried about those she had left behind.

"I'd love to see other survivors come to Australia," she said. "Everyone there had lost some or all of their family. I feel sorry for them. Everything is still uncertain."

Zaynab has been granted a temporary protection visa. Her future in Australia remains uncertain.

A community services spokesman yesterday confirmed that the Department of Immigration had requested that they further "assess the suitability" of the Rimahis as carers.

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