Asylum seekers describe boat tow back
Peter Lloyd reported this story on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 18:10:00
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BRENDAN TREMBATH: Asylum seekers who were onboard two boats towed back to Indonesia by the Australian Navy say they were mistreated and denied food and water to stymie any further attempt at reaching Australia.
They say they were towed for days and abandoned in the middle of the night near isolated Indonesian territory.
Speaking by phone from Kupang in Indonesia, two men from two separate journeys have been describing their experiences to the media for the first time.
Though difficult to verify, both men's stories are strikingly similar.
Peter Lloyd has this exclusive report.
PETER LLOYD: Yusuf is Sudanese. He says he and his wife paid $6,000 to travel from Indonesia to Australia. They left four days before Christmas.
On New Year's Day, he says the boat reached a small island 37 nautical miles from Darwin when the engine broke down.
YUSUF: We landed down on one island. We called UN. We gave the information to UN just because our engine is not good. We can't continue our journey to Darwin.
Then UN people, they called navy of army of Australia. They came with one boat. The number of the boat: 154. And the other ship, the big ship, also is 96.
PETER LLOYD: Those numbers correlate with the vessel numbers for HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Glenelg.
Yusuf says the people on his boat were transferred onto one of the navy ships, some by force.
YUSUF: Some of our people, they jump on the water as a protest. Nine people. And then they take them aboard and then they beat them and they would, were hung on their hands. And anyhow, they used that by an inhuman way.
PETER LLOYD: It was the start of a tow-back that was to last five days. During the journey back, those onboard had been denied their satellite and navigation tools by navy personnel and they were told something different about their destination.
YUSUF: We asked them, "Where do you take us?" They told us that they are taking us to the Christmas Island.
PETER LLOYD: Finally, in the early hours of Monday, they arrived just off remote Indonesian Rote Island.
YUSUF: In the night time, like 3am in the morning, they left us and at that time there is a big wave and storm and rain, all of them together, and our engine even does not work. So we are there and we don't know any direction, we don't have any information, we don't know any place how to go.
We stopped there until the morning and we tried to move but our engine was very bad. We found a mountain in front of us. It was island. So it was very near, like four hours, not very far. We arrived there and then we land down there, we found some Indonesian people. They help us.
Some people they're sick. Some people they have some problem in the water more than 15 days. That's why they help us, the Indonesian people. And now we are with immigration.
PETER LLOYD: Yusuf says he's speaking on behalf of others onboard his boat. This is what they want to tell the Australian people:
YUSUF: What we want, what we want, first of all we need: so if there is some people, some lawyer, they ask on our case, they take them to the court. This is what we want, if someone would like to help us.
PETER LLOYD: Yusuf's account is similar to a story told by Marke, who identified himself as Somali. He was onboard the first boat towed back to Indonesian territory on the 10th of December.
Marke claims there was some rough handling of asylum seekers by personnel from HMAS Parramatta and HMAS Maitland.
MARKE: Yeah. Not just punching me but they punch all people, people who were complaining. People who stated, "We are not going to head back to Indonesia," we said.
PETER LLOYD: Neither the Prime Minister Tony Abbott, nor Immigration Minister Scott Morrison have ever been willing to describe what a tow-back operation involves.
Marke's was the first asylum seeker vessel to experience it. It is a simple roping manoeuvre, followed by a tactical deception about their destination.
MARKE: Ah, put a rope. They put a rope. Then they said, "We are going to Australia, to Christmas Island." They told us a lie.
PETER LLOYD: A few days later Marke and his fellow asylum seekers were put back onto their boat.
MARKE: When we reach, when we were nearby the island of Indonesia, they just start our machine. They fix one of our machines. They start our machine. They say, "Go. You can land over there. It's about 15 kilometres." And then they seemed to run away and disappeared.
BRENDAN TREMBATH: That's Somali man Marke, speaking from Kupang in Indonesia. He was describing the experience of being onboard a boat with asylum seekers when they were towed back to Indonesia.
Peter Lloyd reporting.
The Immigration Minister's office has released a statement which reads: "For operational security reasons, the Government does not disclose, confirm or otherwise comment on reports of on-water activities in relation to Operation Sovereign Borders."
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