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News ::
02 Feb 2003
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.



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

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

"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

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 more information:

Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
phone: 041 70 90 130

(Mr Smit may be out of range for periods during the weekend because of
travel in remote Western Australia)

Marilyn Shepherd
South Australia
phone (08) 8332 8310
email: shepherdmarilyn (at)

Pamela Curr
phone: 0417 51 7075

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