Andrew Clennell
Sydney Morning Herald
5 January 2002

They became the three little angels. All dressed up in the photo on the front pages, they were among more than 350 boat people killed in a disaster at sea, failing in their quest to be reunited with their Iraqi father in Australia.

Now, in a rare show of mercy by the Howard Government towards refugees who attempt to come by boat, it appears the mother of the dead girls, Sondos Ismael, may be granted a visa to come to Australia to join her husband, Ahmed Alzalimi.

A spokesman for the Immigration Minister, Philip Ruddock, confirmed Mrs Ismael was having her application to settle in Australia processed urgently given the horrendous circumstances surrounding her case.

Mr Ruddock's spokesman also revealed the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had determined all 47 of the survivors of the October boat disaster off Java were genuine refugees and Australia was considering taking eight who had family links here.

"Mrs Ismael, with a number of other survivors, was referred to the Australian embassy at Jakarta at the end of November for resettlement in Australia," Mr Ruddock's spokesman said.

"Our embassy agreed to process her urgently on compassionate grounds and ... in Australia a view was taken it should be processed urgently."

The spokesman said security and police checks were being obtained and this was delaying Mrs Ismael getting the visa.

Yesterday, Mr Alzalimi told the Herald the loss of his three only children - Eman, 8, Zhra, 6, and Fatimah, 5 - compounded the tragedy his family had experienced when his wife lost a son, Mohsin, shortly after his birth in 1994.

Mr Alzalimi said he could not understand why his wife's application was taking so long.

"Believe me, I feel like a dead person," Mr Alzalimi said through interpreter Keysar Trad, of the Lebanese Moslems Association.

"Life has no taste for me, my wife is away from me, life has no flavour. I want to see my poor wife."

Mr Alzalimi said being reunited with her was as important as for a person "dying of thirst" to be given water.

"I need to see my wife. If it were not for her, death would be very attractive to me."

Mr Alzalimi said Mrs Ismael, who was very depressed, was staying at a UN-sponsored hotel in Jakarta.

"She stays in her room all the time except at meal time when she comes out to eat," he said.

"I tell her to go out and walk around but she doesn't want to.

"Most of the time, she's sitting in her room looking at the picture of the three girls and she's always crying."

Mr Alzalimi said Mrs Ismael's spirits had lifted when the Government allowed one survivor, 12-year-old Zaynah Alrimahi, to settle in Australia with her uncle in late December after she was orphaned in the tragedy.

Mrs Ismael's hopes grew with every interview she was called to about her application to come here but when she was not called she got "very, very depressed".

"Several times she sits in her hotel room and thinks about throwing herself out the window," said Mr Alzalimi.

Neville Wran, former premier of NSW, was so moved by the story of the three dead girls that he distanced himself from his Federal Labor colleagues and asked for more compassion.

"When I saw those three little girls on the front page of all the papers this morning, something told me Mr Ruddock was wrong," he said during the election. "We're not dealing with a problem, we're dealing with people."

If and when Sondos Ismael gets the opportunity to settle here , she will be granted a 4 year temporary protection visa and could apply for permanent residency.

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