Siev XStateline ACT
Reporter: Philip Williams
A memorial service was held in Canberra to commemorate the 353 lives lost in the sinking of the Siev X - Philip Williams finds out what really happened 4 years ago.
PHILIP WILLIAMS: on Wednesday evening there was a church service in Canberra to commemorate the hundreds who drowned when the boat known as the 'SIEV X' sank four years ago, 'SIEV X' stands for suspected illegal entry vessel number unknown. it was on its way to Australia carrying 397 passengers, most were Iraqi, some Afghani. all planning to seek asylum here. 353 drowned most of them women and children. they were hoping to join husbands and fathers already here albeit in detention. the impact of that tragedy was lost in the political climate at the time. this week's service commemorates those lives lost, seven of the survivors were present.
AMAL BASRY: my name is Amal it means hope.
REPORTER: two days ago in a city church gathered to mark a maritime disaster. 533 - 353 people drowned.
I would like everyone here to stand one minute to remember our friends.those lost were not Australian but they wanted to be. their story almost forgotten.
REPORTER: are you disappointed at all with the way Australians have reacted to this tragedy?
AMAL: some day they're going to understand us. I explain, explain why we escape from our country and now all the Australian people they ask me, do you have family? do you still have family in Baghdad, in Iraq? I say yes. it's very hard, it's very scarey. it's very danger. to me they understand why we're scared from our country. the people there understand I'm sure that the Government they understand why we escaped from our country.
REPORTER: Amal Basry is one of just 42 survivors. She and her son were trying to join her husband who is already in Australia after escaping arrest and execution in Saddam Hussein's Iraq. as their ship sank, like everyone else, she thought she was going to die.
AMAL: I saw a dead woman's body. I hold her clothes and I swim with one hand to my son's side. he hugged me, he kissed me, he told mum I love you. I told him I love you so much. he looked at the dead bodies and he found that the woman had a save jacket. he took her save jacket and he give to me. I said that woman please don't feel helpless, I said you must support yourself, save your life. big wave pushed me off from my son, separated. I still remember my son when he called me, mum, goodbye, maybe I see you in paradise.
REPORTER: all around her people were dying, including children who a few days earlier had been asking her about Australia.
AMAL: some day they ask me, what you think Australia look like? I tell them Australia look like paradise. I found that the survivors just 35 people from 420 or maybe. I ask myself on the way to Jakarta where is the beautiful children? where is the poor woman? where is the dreams? I said the dreams, the water of the ocean killed their dreams, so this is the tragedy.
REPORTER: with hope gone after more than 20 hours in the water she wanted to die. at that moment an Indonesian fisherman plucked her from the sea.
AMAL: I pray to him, please save my son. he say no, I haven't time. I said please, please, save my son he is still down in the ocean. thank God the driver listen to us and he went into the ocean and he look. finally I saw my son. it looked like he come from the sky from a big wave and I saw him and finally they saved him.
REPORTER: despite their rescue Amal and her son languished for months in Indonesia where they prayed they'd be accepted in Australia. when these women were shown pictures of the smugglers who organised the boat it was too much to bear. amongst the group Amal Basry.
AMAL: believe me I can't sleep in the night because I remember everything and I say, see everybody dying in the ocean.
REPORTER: three years later here she was in Canberra to bear witness again, safe in Australia but her troubles far from over.
AMAL: I've been in Australia after one year I got breast cancer, I had chemotherapy and they took my breast and I lost something very important to me. so after one year I have breast cancer now. every month I have treatment.
REPORTER: she's not the only survivor here in Canberra, Faris Kadhem's smile be lies a terrible loss.
FARIS KADHEM: I lost my wife and my daughter seven years old.
REPORTER: how important is this day, this must be a very difficult day for you?
FARIS: of course for me, very, very sad. of course, very hard. still I hear when my daughter she call me, dad, dad come help me, sometime in the night. when I sleep I scream.
REPORTER: I hope things do improve for you, I'm sorry.
FARIS: thank you very much.
REPORTER: on the walls are designs for a memorial done by school children. organiser psychologist and author Steve Biddulph is determined a memorial will be built.
STEVE BIDDULPH: my experience is most people have never event heard of 'SIEV X' what we're doing is going around the country and telling the story. by building a memorial we're letting people know the story for the first time. most people don't know that it was a ship made up entirely of mothers and children. most people have no idea that we had their husbands in detention centres and left without support in Indonesia. we did create a situation for this to happen we have some responsibility.
JON STANHOPE: it is an Australian loss. in a sense how they never reached their destination these were members of our community just because that is what they wanted so badly to be. I hope that a home is found for a national 'SIEV X' memorial. I do not believe this is a story that ought to be forgotten or disowned. it's a part of our history.
AMAL: I didn't lose my body, I didn't lose my son but I feel I lose something very important in the ocean.
REPORTER: why do you think you're not as remembered as you'd like to be?
AMAL: they must remember the victims. I remember the Bali bombing, the victims of Bali. I still remember them. I remember the victims of 11 September, I still remember these people. why they didn't remember us, also we are human.
REPORTER: how do you think you can make them understand and feel what you're feeling right now? maybe they hear my voice, maybe they read my story or maybe many people they hear me when I talk. I just want to tell the Australian people and the Australian Government that we are human, we look for peace, we look for future for our children. that's it. we are human.
REPORTER: at the Church door a little boy is too young to comprehend what's happened to his brother. inside his mother quietly nurses the pain of losing her first child just a-year-old, drowned with 353 others. 146 of them children, just like him.