Friday 31 January 2003 - 13:00 WST
For Immediate Release
Fatima Erfani died on Sunday 19 January 2003 at 10.30am at Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital in Western Australia. She was 28.
Only when her death was reported by refugee advocates, the government went into action and made a public announcement of Fatima's death.
Fremantle's ALP backbencher Dr Carmen Lawrence was one of those who called for a full inquiry into the circumstances of Fatima's death, and raised severe doubts about the standard of medical care on Nauru and in the other detention centres.
The true story about what happened to Fatima, and how she died, has now come to light thanks to research by refugee advocates in Western Australia.
Jack Smit of WA based Project SafeCom confirms that the facts, received from sources who wish to remain confidential, confirm that the Federal government both has tried to cover up the facts last week, when DIMIA stated that ".... an ambulance arrived immediately, when Fatima complained".
Mr Smit said: "You know, DIMIA goes to extremes to discredit the work of the thousands of refugee advocates around Australia, even to the point where we will soon be able to accuse DIMIA and the Minister not just of a complete whitewash, but of lying to Australians."
"This case shows graphically, that the government lies to the Australian public, that it has extremely good reasons to be involved in cover-ups and denials, time and again. In court cases crucial witnesses have disappeared, in inquests documents essential to the coroner vanish, and we're still waiting for a witness to "un-disappear" in relation to this month's inquest into the death of an asylum seeker from Villawood. More and more we start to understand why the government is controlling the media, and barring open access to Australia's hell holes".
Last week, in the presence of Dr Carmen Lawrence and Senator Andrew Bartlett, Mr Smit announced that amongst Project SafeCom's activities for 2003 will be extensive research into an International prosecution of the Howard government.
"We are very serious", Mr Smit said. "This event adds to our bank of data, and the government will not evade the answers of justice cases like this demand".
The unnamed source went on with the story as follows:
"Fatima came to Australia from Afghanistan on a boat from Indonesia in October 2001, during the federal election campaign and post Tampa and the September 11 terrorist attacks. By the time they arrived at Christmas Island, the Liberal Government had excised Christmas Island from Australia for the purposes of the Migration Act. This meant that Fatima and her family had little or no opportunity for making a new life in Australia. She travelled with her husband, Ali Reza and her three children aged 7, 6 and 3. The family are Hazara and had been persecuted by the Taliban."
"During 2002, possibly in June, Fatima was diagnosed with and treated for high blood pressure. According to her husband, her blood pressure worsened during the year especially after the detention centre fire in November, and after their claims for asylum had been rejected making the reality of a return to war-torn Afghanistan inevitable."
"On Saturday 11 January 2003, Fatima awoke during the night with severe headaches. She took panadol. She had headaches during Sunday and Monday and generally felt unwell. Her blood pressure was taken sometime during this time and the reading was 220 over 120. On Tuesday 14 January 2003, Fatima went to see a Doctor at the Christmas Island hospital to see about her headaches and blood pressure. She was given medication to treat her headaches and reassured that she was OK. On Wednesday 15 January, Fatima was very unwell all morning. She had difficulty getting out of bed and staying awake, and was unable to walk very small distances. At 11.30am she collapsed and was unconscious. She was taken to Christmas Island hospital."
"It took until 11pm to get a plane to Christmas Island for Fatima to be evacuated to Perth. At 3.30am on 16 January Fatima arrived at SCGH. A brain scan was conducted immediately and the Doctor told Ali Reza that unless surgery occurred, Fatima would die within 24 hours. Ali Reza consented to surgery. At 8.30am he was told that Fatima's brain was too damaged and the bleeding in her brain was too extensive, and that she had very little time to live."
"During Thursday Fatima was unconscious in the intensive care unit at SCGH with Ali Reza by her side. In the early afternoon I tried to see Ali Reza to offer some support and also to say goodbye to Fatima whom I had known for nearly 12 months. I was stopped at the doors of ICU by and ACM guard and told to phone a DIMIA official in Canberra to seek permission. I spent the next 10 minutes trying to find a public phone to make the call to Canberra, becoming more distressed and frustrated each minute. I explained that I did not want to intrude and that I would only stay for 5 minutes. My main aim was to let Ali know I was there and that he could telephone me if he wanted to. The DIMIA official was unequivocal in her refusal of allowing me to visit and assured me that Ali was getting all the support he needed. I stressed that I was the only person in Perth he knew, that I had known him, Fatima and their children for nearly a year, and that under the circumstances he may appreciate seeing my face. The DIMIA position had been set in concrete and it was clear I was not able to visit Ali and Fatima. I stumbled out of the hospital crying with rage and frustration and not being able to comprehend the indignity and inhumanity of our government's position."
"On Friday 17 January, Ali Reza was told that Fatima's brain was dead and ask whether he consented to the life support system being turned off. He said he would wait until her heart had stopped beating. Fatima's heart stopped beating on Sunday 19 January."
"Ali Reza and Fatima's children were sent to Perth from Christmas Island on Friday 17 January, pressumably to say goodbye to their mother. They were accomodated in a hotel with an ACM guard while their mother was dying in hospital. After Fatima died, Ali was told that he and the children were to return to Christmas Island the next day."
"I have been speaking with Ali Reza every night by telephone. He told me that on the Friday he was by Fatima's ICU bed, he was told by the ACM guard that I was there outside ICU, but that he was forbidden to go outside to speak to me. He said he wanted me to be with him and Fatima, and when they forbade him to see me, his heart became so swollen he felt it would burst through his mouth. He still doesn't know what has happened to Fatima's body."
Former reporter Marilyn Shepherd confirmed from South Australia: "A quick browse through the records shows that Fatima was on SIEV-6 intercepted by the Warramunga on 19th October, just about the time our friends on SIEV X were dying in the water. The boat was held for 11 days in sight of land, the passengers were stripped searched and gassed by overburdened engines for 11 days in the broiling heat of the Indian Ocean."
"Fatima would have had to attempt to control her three small kids for 11 days with little shelter or shade, temperatures in the high 30's, crowded onto a boat with a passenger load of 227 plus Indonesian fishermen, probably 4."
"The heat, the flies, the sight of shelter and land for 11 days must have driven her to the point of insanity, the thought of a bed must have been a wild fantasy."
"For the record, SIEV-6 featured in the BBC documentary 'Australia's Pacific Solution' and was the only other one intercepted at Christmas Island in October 2001."
Ms Shepherd further commented: "28 year old women do not have such massive strokes as this without great cause. Phosphate would do it.
"With a blood pressure that high she did not have an aneurysm, they left her so long that her brain blew up with a stroke of massive proportions."
Pamela Curr, spokesperson for the Victorian Greens, said: "How long do we have to keep these appalling horror stories? How much longer does this game have to go on for, while people are being tortured in our country, while complete denials are the order of the day?"
For further information:
Mr Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[Phone number posted]
[Phone number posted]
Ms Pamela Curr
Victorian Greens Spokesperson for Refugees
[Phone number posted]