SIEV X survivor recalls the children's dreams

C. Naylor
Thursday, 20 October 2005
Canberra Times

Four years ago, Amal Basry was one of more than 400 people who crammed into an Indonesian fishing boat. Today, she is one of only 68 who survived the attempted journey to Australia. The boat, known as SIEV X (suspected illegal entry vessel), sank in the Java Sea on October 19, after leaving Sumatra bound for Christmas Island. It was only 19.5m long and 4m wide.

Most of the 353 people who drowned were women and children from Iraq and Afghanistan. Five survivors, including Mrs Basry, travelled to Canberra yesterday to mark the fourth anniversary of the disaster and remember those who died.

One woman lost her 18-month-old son, while another lost her brother and sister. Mrs Basry and her youngest son, who was then aged 18, spent the night drifting at sea before fishermen rescued them.

"It was stormy, cold and rainy and I felt hopeless," she told those who gathered at the Canberra City Uniting Church for a memorial service.

"I looked around and there was no one, just water and sky, and children who were dying."

Before she had boarded the boat, the children had asked her what Australia would be like. One of them had asked her whether he would have a Playstation when he got there.

"Every time I think about this accident, I remember their dreams."

Mrs Basry and her son had attempted to make the trip to Australia from Iraq to be with her husband, who had been granted a temporary protection visa. They had travelled to Iran and on to Indonesia, where they had paid a people smuggler to take them on the boat to Australia.

"It was midnight when we left Sumatra Island. When this accident happened, it was on Friday October 19, and it was 3.10pm. [My friend] shouted and said 'we are going to die, the water is coming'.

"After one minute, our boat sank and at that moment, I didn't know what I was going to do."

She spent 20 hours clinging to pieces of wood and the clothing of drowned victims before a fishing boat found the survivors.

Since then, Mrs Basry, her husband and her son have been granted permanent residency and are living in Melbourne. "My son just got married one month ago, and my eldest son is still in Iran but we hope he will be with us next month."

She still stays in touch with the other survivors of the tragedy, including the women who also attended the memorial service last night. "One of them lost her son, he was one year and six months old. The tragedy is she still thinks her son is alive."

Organisers of the event also unveiled the chosen design for a memorial dedicated to the victims.

School students from around the country submitted design entries, with Mitchell Donaldson, from Queensland, providing the inspiration for the final version. All of the entries are on display at the Uniting Church until Saturday.

The design features 353 poles, with tall ones representing adults and small ones for the children. Project convener Steve Biddulph hopes to install it on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin next year.

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