Tragedy turns to agony for family caught in visa limbo
By Cynthia Banham
Sydney Morning Herald
4 March 2003

Photo: Ahmad Alzalimy and his wife Sondous Ismail Ibrahim with their daughter Allaa.

For the Iraqi parents who lost three young daughters in the SIEV-X sinking a year and a half ago, life as temporary protection visa (TPV) holders means their suffering continues unabated.

The mother, Sondous Ismail Ibrahim, who a month ago gave birth to a daughter Allaa, cannot visit the site where her children Eman, Zahra and Fatima perished because her visa gives her no right of return to Australia if she leaves.

The visa of her husband, Ahmad Alzalimy, who arrived before his wife, and spent eight months in Curtin detention centre, expired nearly two weeks ago, and he has not heard from Immigration authorities about his application for a permanent visa. His wife's visa will expire in 2007.

Through an interpreter, Keysar Trad, the couple told the Herald they felt a 'deep wound' each time they thought about their three girls.

The uncertainty about their future 'creates a lot of fear' for them, and the mother in particular 'would rather die than leave Australia' because this is closest to where her daughters drowned.

Mr Alzalimy, who has not been able to find a job - TPV holders are ineligible for most employment assistance programs as well as English language programs - said the visas were 'like a prison'. 'One feels like dying from despair.'

The couple's sentiments were echoed by those of an 18-year-old Afghan who arrived in Australia as an unaccompanied minor two years ago, and spent three years in Curtin before being released on a TPV.

The young man is working full-time as a cleaner in a shopping centre in western Sydney to pay for his $4000-a-semester TAFE computer course. TPV holders are also ineligible for Austudy, and have to pay full fees for tertiary study.

A Hazara who fled persecution by the Taliban, he does not know if his parents and six sisters and brothers are alive or dead. His time in detention has left its mark. He remembers the razor wire. Inside, he said, 'I saw a lot of people there who were crying ... people unconscious, fighting, people cutting themselves, people jumping off trees - it was very hard'.

His visa was due to expire in August next year, he said. 'It's very hard for me; I don't know what's going to happen to my future ... Most of the time I'm having nightmares and I dream of my family. I wake up and I'm crying in my sleep.'


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