350 Drowned between Australia and Indonesia
20:02 AEST Thu 25 Oct 2001
Survivors say police forced them onto boat
AFP - Survivors of a boat accident which left some 350 asylum seekers drowned, said Indonesian policemen and smugglers had forced at gunpoint the some 400 immigrants to board the doomed boat.
"When I got to the big boat, I realised it cannot take all the passengers and it was made of very bad material, I tried to get back into the small boat but the police would not allow me," said Haidar Ataa, an Iraqi Kurd who lost his wife and his two children in the tragedy.
Speaking from a guesthouse in this hilly resort town some 60 kilometres south of Jakarta provided by the International Organisation for Migration, Haidar said he saw the armed police beat people in front of him and his family.
He and other survivors said that the roughly 400 asylum-seekers had been taken by several small boats, with around 20-25 people on board at the time, to the bigger boat moored off the coast of Lampung in South Sumatra on October 18.
The boat was to take them to Australia's Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean south of Indonesia's Java island.
"We all tried to go back but the only way to go back was by small boat," said another survivor, Kareem Jabar Husein, a 25-year-old Iraqi.
Police pointed guns at them to prevent them from returning to shore once they got into the ship and saw how small it was, he said.
Husein, who lost his eight-year-old son in the tragedy, also said he saw police beat four people in front of him who had tried to get back into the small boat.
He said the smugglers had told them the boat was big enough for everyone. They said the boat was 27 metres long when it turned out to be only 19 metres long.
Ali Hameed Ahmad, 28, an Iraqi Kurd said that when they came to the boat they saw it was crowded and wanted to go back but police arriving in a small boat would not let them.
More than 12 people tried to go back to the shore but police and the smugglers hit two of them on the head, Ahmad said.
He said there were about 30 police on the boat and on the shore.
"We asked to go back but they said it was not allowed," Ahmad said, adding that the police and smugglers followed the boat in small boats for some 15 minutes after it had raised anchor to make sure no one jumped off.
He named the man organising the smuggling as Abu Quassey, an Egyptian.
Husein said Quassey pistol-whipped one man who tried to disembark with his family before the ill-fated voyage began.
Ahmad told AFP: "If I know where he (Quassey) is, I will kill him," adding that all he wanted now was "a solution so I can live as a human".
Husein was more dramatic, saying that "we have lost hope of life," and said that the survivors had agreed to hire a ship and jump overboard if the Indonesian government and the United Nations had failed to do anything for them by November 14.