Visa rules stop refugees from identifying drowned relatives

Claire Harvey
30 October 2001

They died trying to get to Australia but that may not be enough for the federal government.

It has given approval for the bodies of asylum seekers who drowned when a boat capsized 10 days ago to be brought to Australia for burial. But relatives living here are unable to fly to Indonesia to identify the bodies because of the restrictions of their three-year temporarty visas, which do not allow re-entry to Australia.

Indonesian authorities have recovered most of the 353 people who drowned on October 19 when an overcrowded boat carrying 397 asylum-seekers bound for Australia sank off Java.

The bodies may be flown to Australia provided they have legal death certificates and are embalmed, a spokesman for the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service said yesterday.

They are now awaiting identification in coolrooms south of Jakarta, Mandaean-Australian community spokesman Esselle Hattom said.

Followers of the Mandaean religion, which is believed to predate Christianity and has Adam and John the Baptist as prophets, believe they will suffer eternal torments if not buried according to traditional rites, but Indonesia does not allow Mandaeans to be buried in Muslim cemeteries he said.

Refugee Haidar al-Zoohairi, whose wife, two children and brother-in-law drowned in the tragedy, does not know if their bodies have been pulled from the water or not. There is no one in Indonesia who can identify their bodies and Mr al-Zoohairi is not allowed to leave Australia.

[ Editor's note: I believe this report is innacurate. I have searched since 2002 for other evidence that would confirm that bodies were retrieved. I have found none. As far as I am aware only two bodies were ever recovered. If any reader can find evidence to the contrary please contact me ~ Marg Hutton, 17 October 2013]

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