Four families have asked that the bodies of their loved ones be sent back to Iraq rather than buried in a funeral service planned by the Department of Immigration for tomorrow, a refugee advocate has said.
Jamal Daoud, of the Social Justice Network, said the families decided not take part in the mass funeral because "they did not like the insensitivity" displayed by the government over the burial.
Daoud says the federal Department of Immigration told families their loved ones would be delivered in closed caskets and "would not be allowed to be taken out to be washed, or taken to the mosque for prayers, as is custom".
The families thought the government was "not fulfilling the religious requirements for a dignified burial," and so have decided instead to send their relatives back to Iraq, where they will be buried according to religious custom.
The funeral for 17 victims of the tragic boat crash off the coast of Christmas Island last year is to be held tomorrow in Sydney in two separate ceremonies — one Christian and one Muslim. According to Daoud, seven victims were to be buried in the Muslim ceremony, but that has now shrunk to three.
The families who have decided not to go ahead with the department-organised funeral have visas and are living in the community, Daoud told New Matilda. The families who are taking part are mostly detainees: "they do not know as much about the Australian process", he said, and so have fewer options available to them.
One of those is the family of eight-month-old Zahra El Ibrahimy, who died alongside her 23-year-old mother and four-year-old brother during the crash.
Her father Madian, who is detained at Christmas Island, is on his way to Sydney for tomorrow’s service. Zahra has two teenage uncles who are also in detention and another who has lived in Sydney since 2003 and holds permanent residency.
Colman Ridge, who made a short film about baby Zahra called Australian Family Reunion, and will be at the funeral to support her family said: "The surviving brothers were hoping to reunite briefly at the funeral and support each other as a grieving family. But although all family members will attend the funeral, they have been told they will not be permitted to talk to each other or to anyone else."
Daoud told New Matilda detainees had been warned by security guards at the island’s detention centre that they should not speak to anyone during the trip and that they will be held at a secret location in Sydney under strict security.
He said he thought the government was concerned about adverse media coverage and wanted to "intimidate them to not speak to anyone".
"[Immigration] Minister Chris Bowen is trying very hard to win the racist vote for the ALP but he is mistaken," said Daoud. "The ALP did not lose the racist vote in the last election, they lost the progressive vote."
A spokesman for the minister told New Matilda "We have worked with families of the deceased to allow them to observe their customs and grieve for their lost relatives".
"The claim that family members in Sydney will not be allowed to meet with those coming from Christmas Island is incorrect — they will indeed have an opportunity to meet and speak," he said.
He confirmed that five bodies were being returned to their countries of origin while the rest would be buried on the Australian mainland.
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