A phone call, and dream turns to despair
Thursday 25 October 2001
"My family dead in that boat. My wife, my mum, my four children ..." Hazam Al Rowaimi, 29, cries as he recounts the tragedy he believes overtook his family on a rotting boat on the seas off Java.
The telephone call came through from his friend Ali, in Indonesia, late on Tuesday. Mr Al Rowaimi had a dreadful fear something was wrong. "I asked him `What about this boat? What about this boat?' And he said they were killed."
Mr Al Rowaimi, now settled in Victoria on a temporary protection visa, has no official confirmation that his family is dead, but in his own mind he is convinced. He has a brief spark of hope, although he has had no news. "Can you check?" he asks this reporter as he caresses precious photos of his children, and weeps again.
In his black clothing and halting English, he already mourns for his wife, Akhlas, his mother, Hamda, and four children, Noor, 11, Fatama, 8, Nargis, 5, and Mohammed, 3.
A refugee who fled Saddam Hussein's Iraq more that two years ago, Mr Al Rowaimi knows well the treacherous journey his family undertook. He once did it himself, and tried to dissuade his family. It was too risky, he warned. But after nearly three years apart, they were desperate for a reunion.
"My mother called me last week from Indonesia and said they would come," he says now. "I said it was too much."
Last night, clutching his photos, Mr Al Rowaimi and his battered bag left the backpackers' lodge in Mildura that he now calls home. He headed for Melbourne to catch a plane to Perth to be with the only family he now thinks he has - an aunt there.
Uppermost in his mind is how to bury his family. This was not the bright future he imagined in Australia when he arrived 18 months ago.
After settling his family temporarily in Iran, he set out on his own long journey to Australia through Indonesia. He was intent on laying the foundations of a new life for his children. There was no future for him in Iraq, where the mere fact of his wife's Iranian descent made him a target for persecution.
"It was impossible for us to live in Iraq," he says. "There was no security there."
He spent more than a year at Curtin Detention Centre, in Western Australia, but after establishing his credentials as a genuine refugee, he hoped the new life he had dreamed of would come to fruition. Now he has only tears and memories. "I love my family too much," he says. "I don't have anything else - just this family."