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News ::
31 Jan 2003
The Australian government is locking up Asylum Seekers, ignoring their responsibility to the duty of care. Fatmia died in custody, leaving behind a husband and three children. She is the ninth person to die while being detained like an animal.
The Australian government is locking up Asylum Seekers, ignoring their responsibility to the duty of care. Fatmia died in custody, leaving behind a husband and three children. She is the ninth person to die while being detained like an animal.


By Marilyn Shepherd

Fatima Erfani died on Sunday 19 January 2003 at 10.30am at Sir Charles Gairdner
Hospital in Western Australia. She was 28.

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 traveled 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, presumably to say goodbye to their mother. They were
accommodated 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.

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