The first thing refugee boat survivor Hameeda said when interviewed in her bed at a Merak hotel was to apologise for her appearance. Her face was blistered and swollen, her lips covered by yellow sores from the sun, her eyes closed to slits. Pride in her appearance, at least, had survived.
Hameeda, 25, was one of only two or perhaps three women to survive from a boat some asylum seekers say carried as many as 165 people. The others are in hospital nearby, part of a group of 10 who have been hospitalised. One man died after being plucked from the water, his arm having been ripped off by a shark.
The other 44 survivors are staying temporarily at a hotel in Merak, locked in their rooms by immigration authorities. Doctors have set up a sick bay in one room, and the blistered faces of asylum seekers filed in and out yesterday, accompanied by police.
Omed, a 10-year-old boy who was the only child survivor of the wreck and whose story featured on the front page of yesterday's The Sydney Morning Herald, walked around the hotel dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, sipping a cola drink as he was led into the "Rumah Dokter", or doctor's room.
All Afghan asylum seekers have terrible stories about what led them to flee, and Hameeda's is that she fled because a man threatened to kill her if she did not marry him.
"The people who have money and who have power, they tell me, 'You should marry me'," Hameeda said.
"If you not marry to me I will kill you … Every time they send me a letter … I am afraid."
Hameeda's father was killed by the Taliban, she said. Her brother-in-law disappeared from the highway three years ago, leaving a young baby behind. They assume he, too, is dead. About two years ago, Hameeda, her mother and her sister decided to flee to Pakistan. But life without a man to earn money in Pakistan was tough, so her mother and she decided she must try for a new life in Australia.
Like many others, she paid people smuggler Haji Gholam $US5500 for passage to Christmas Island that he assured her was safe. The rickety boat sank early on Wednesday morning.
Hameeda, often weeping inconsolably, described the horror, and how she helped Omed. "When big water came, I took his hand. I said, 'You're small, and you're going. Big water come.' " She thanked God when Omed survived.
She passed out before being rescued, after seeing an Australian ship come close, then move away.
"When I wake up I was in a small room [in the rescue ship]."
Her uncle lives in Australia and she still has faith that she will be welcomed. "I request from Australia they should accept me. They should save me. Please, please save our life.''
The heads of the major Christian churches have condemned the federal government's new asylum seeker laws. In a statement to be released today, they say: ''Many of our churches grew here as a result of people having fled places of violence or migrating to seek better futures for their families.'' This comes as 62 asylum seekers were intercepted yesterday.