Refugee children's painful wait for a distant mother

By Penelope Debelle
The Age
April 20 2002

The two daughters of an Iraqi woman who survived the people smuggling disaster in which 350 people drowned last year off the coast of Java are still waiting for their mother to be allowed into Australia.

Anfal, 9, and Naba, 8, last saw their mother, Najah Zubaydi, 26, when the family separated in Iran 18 months ago. Anfal, who now lives in Adelaide with her grandparents, says she remembers hugging her mother and baby brother goodbye in October, 2000.

"He is dead," she says, pointing to a photo of Karrar, the 18-month-old brother who drowned when the boat sank. "And he is dead," she says, pointing to Haydar Zubaydi, 22, her uncle, who was travelling with Najah and another sister who survived. A third sister, Najla, also drowned.

The Zubaydi family lost half a generation on its seven-year odyssey from Iraq to Australia, which began in 1995 when they moved to Iran. Four years later, unable to rent housing or send the children to school, the girls' father, grandmother Fakhria Zubaydi and grandfather, Du'ayr Zubaydi, took Anfal and Naba and fled to Australia. They spent five months at the Port Hedland detention centre before being released last August on temporary protection visas.

Speaking through an interpreter, Keysar Trad, Fakhria Zubaydi said yesterday that two months after settling in Adelaide she dreamt her son had drowned.

"Then someone from the Lebanese community in Adelaide told her what had happened with the boat and she began screaming and crying because she knew it was true," Mr Trad said. "She contacted someone in Indonesia and they told her some of her children had drowned but maybe one or two had survived."

Since then, the surviving daughters, Najah Zubaydi and her sister Zena, 18, have been in Jakarta.

Mr Trad said Najah had told her family her visa had been finalised at the Australian embassy in Jakarta but for a fax from Canberra giving final clearance.

Meanwhile, she was living in difficult circumstances in Indonesia with little money or outside support, he said.

Inside their modest Adelaide home, Fakhria Zubaydi wails with grief, pulling her black shawl across her face. She tells Mr Trad that some days she feels it would have been better to have stayed and been executed by Saddam Hussein than to have lived through such tragedy.

A spokesman for Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said survivors of the sinking would be accepted into Australia if they had proven family links, met health and character criteria and were assessed as refugees by the United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, in Indonesia. He refused to comment on a particular case.


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