A two-year-old asylum seeker lost her mother and sister when a boat carrying more than 150 capsized

Gemma Jones
News Limited Network
July 17, 2013 11:11PM

AMONG the 144 traumatised survivors of yet another asylum boat capsize, rescuers found a two-year-old girl whose mother and four-year-old sister were missing, presumed drowned.

Just a day after taking a Sri Lankan couple to Christmas Island's morgue to hold their 10-week-old baby boy, killed in a boat tragedy on Friday which claimed nine lives, Department of Immigration acting regional manager Mat Rogers yesterday watched his staff flock to the bereaved girl.

She and other survivors of Tuesday's capsize _ 11 people are still missing and four confirmed dead _ began arriving at Flying Fish Cove from 1am. Staff who had been at work since 6am the day before stayed up all night to console them.

``When she arrived last night her family weren't there,'' Mr Rogers said. ``I saw staff go out of their way to look after her and make sure she was OK.''

Late yesterday she was reunited with her father and baby sister.

She is one of the human faces of a growing political problem _ but so too is Mr Rogers and his staff, along with Serco detention centre manager John Harrison and his team who regularly come face-to-face with such tragedies.

As yet another rescue was under way of an asylum boat carrying about 80 people, Mr Rogers revealed that in the past week he had to tell several parents that their children were missing, presumed drowned.

Watching the Sri Lankan couple hold their baby boy for the last time at the island's new 50-person temporary morgue was hard, he said.

``That was really difficult. They held the baby to say farewell,'' he said.

``It is really hard to convince them to leave him rest. They kept asking if they could just stay there with him.

``I think it is harder on everyone when it is kids. Where there is a baby, it is really hard to see.

``From the one (capsize) that happened earlier in the week, there's three families who have lost children.''

Mr Harrison said the grief of parents would never be seen by the people smugglers who had loaded them on to the vessel and who potentially pocketed $1.5 million.

``The reports were the boat was overloaded before it started,'' he said. ``The people smugglers con these people.

``They tell them the engine has been overhauled, they tell them they have all the safety gear _ they lie to them.

``They tell them it is propaganda about the sinkings.

``When you see a mother and a father who realise their decision has cost them their child, then you see real grief and real guilt and that is what we have got to help these people through. It is that grief and that guilt that people at the front end of the smuggling chain will never see.''

But Mr Rogers, Mr Harrison and their teams do.

The two men were among agency heads planning for hours before the survivors arrived yesterday to ensure they had privacy and counselling while staff worked to reunite families.

Once families had been taken to the Phosphate Hill camp, they stayed behind to take the four bodies ashore.

And they are not the only ones dealing with the deaths.

``When we saw the people coming off the boats, especially the kids, you've got to be so impressed with the navy and Customs and what they do out there,'' Mr Harrison said.

Despite rough seas ``ntsG ``We had sea state five andntethey saved a lot of lives,'' he said. ``We're always very conscious of the stress those guys go through.'' Border Protection Commander Rear Admiral David Johnston praised the crews of HMAS Albany and HMAS Warramunga and said the rescue would take an emotional toll.

``My praise for them is unlimited because of what they have achieved,'' he said.

HMAS Albany had monitored the vessel since early Tuesday but rough seas had prevented crew boarding.

It began listing about 6pm and capsized soon after.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the asylum crisis had been ``poisoned by politics'' and said the Liberals and Greens should allow a change to the Migration Act to permit the Malaysia people swap.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Prime Minister Kevin Rudd should ``face the fact you got it wrong'' in dismantling the first "Pacific Solution".


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