Suspicions haunt survivor of Siev X sinking
By Sophie Morris
The Australian
27 October 2003

TWO years have passed since Faris Kadhem's wife, Layla, and seven-year-old daughter Zahra died when their crowded people smuggling boat sank en route to Australia. But the night still haunts him.

On the anniversary of the tragedy last week, Mr Kadhem -- a Kurd who was forced out of Iraq as a child -- recalled the sinking of the boat, known as Siev X, which claimed 353 lives, leaving only 45 survivors. Other survivors have reported that lights from two large vessels pierced the darkness as they floundered in the water, hoping to be rescued.

Mr Kadhem corroborates this but adds that he also saw a smaller dinghy with an outboard motor cruising around two large metal-hulled ships. Mr Kadhem said about 200 people were still alive when the boats shone their lights on them.

When they were finally rescued by Indonesian fishermen the next morning, only 45 had survived the night.

Mr Kadhem said the vessels came within 100m of some of the people in the water, while others were at a distance of about 300m from them. 'They told everyone to scream in one voice so they could be clearly heard: `Please help me! Please help me!' There were 200 people and they used whistles together and yelled out. Even if it was a smaller group of people -- even if it was only 70 -- surely they would have heard us,' he said in an interview translated by Keysar Trad of the Lebanese Muslim community.

But the boats' lights shone for only a matter of minutes and they left after about half an hour.

The man accused of arranging the treacherous voyage on the ill-equipped boat, Abu Quassey, is on trial in Egypt for his role in the tragedy.

According to a report from Agence France Presse yesterday, the Egyptian prosecution has recommended Quassey be sentenced to life in prison.

Quassey's lawyers have argued that he was a middleman in the operation, not its mastermind.

Mr Kadhem met Quassey in Indonesia several times. He gave him his wife's gold jewellery, worth about $2000, as payment for the passage to Australia.

In Dying to leave, a documentary to screen on SBS tomorrow , Mr Kadhem recalls how Quassey followed passengers to the point of embarkation with a gun, preventing them leaving when they saw the rundown state of the boat.

A verdict is expected in the Quassey trial on December 27.

Seven survivors have been given temporary visas in Australia, including Mr Kadhem, who joined his son, Ali, mother, two brothers and two sisters in Melbourne after waiting eight months in a refugee camp in Indonesia.

His temporary protection visa expires in mid-2007 -- a situation he finds hard to understand, as survivors accepted by Scandinavian countries and Canada have been given permanent visas.

'Why is it that all the other countries have given people permanent protection while Australia only provides temporary visas after the tragedy?' he said.

Photo Caption: Survivors: Faris Kadhem at Woomera detention centre with his son, Ali

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