Lost for 42 days, another tragedy on the horizon

Natalie O'Brien
Brisbane Times
December 26, 2010


THESE are the faces of some of the 97 other asylum seekers feared to have perished at sea while en route to Australia from Indonesia.

Frantic relatives of 14 of the missing people say they last had contact with them on November 13.

Relatives from Iraq and Iran who have contacted welfare groups in Australia said they last received a call from relatives saying they were in Jakarta and were due to leave by boat the next day with a group of about 97 people bound for Australia. Advertisement: Story continues below

Although the journey from Indonesia by sea usually takes from two to four days, and a boat did arrive in Australia early this month, no further contact has been made.

The missing boat was due to arrive more than three weeks before the boat tragedy on Christmas Island on December 15 in which at least 48 asylum seekers died.

''We have been receiving many phone calls from family members that have lost contact with their beloved ones,'' said Jamal Daoud of the Social Justice Network.

''They told us that there were 97 persons on the boat. A few of the family members contacted Indonesian authorities to explore if their family members are in jail or detention, but the answer was always negative.''

Mr Daoud said if they had already arrived in Australia it was unusual not to have heard from any of them. He said when asylum seekers were taken into detention they were given access to telephones to call their families to say they had arrived.

Refugee advocates who have been making inquiries in Indonesia say they have been told the missing boat had been organised by an Algerian people smuggler and was ''lost''.

Mr Daoud said there was a possibility the boat's engine had failed and they were shipwrecked on a remote island.

''We are thinking of sending someone to Indonesia to investigate,'' Mr Daoud said.

A spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection said it was unaware of claims of a missing boat.

''If Border Protection Command, which manages day-to-day maritime surveillance and response operations, holds any safety concerns in relation to a vessel that has been detected, such information is passed to the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in the Australian Maritime Safety Authority to co-ordinate a response,'' a Customs spokesperson said. ''No such detection was made and no rescue action was taken in the period which is the subject of the question.''

Mr Daoud said the photos of the missing people were sent to the Department of Immigration and to others in detention centres more than a week ago in an effort to determine if anyone had seen them.

The Department of Immigration told The Sun-Herald it could not comment on the case but did say it had an established policy for identifying people in detention when inquiries were made.

A spokesman said if a positive identification of a person in detention was made, the detainee was told someone was looking for them and given an opportunity to respond. Alternatively they could give the department permission to contact the inquirer and tell them their status.

It is believed none of the missing people was on the boat tagged the SIEV 221, which crashed into the cliffs at Christmas Island almost two weeks ago.

Yesterday a boat carrying 57 asylum seekers was intercepted north-east of Ashmore Island. The passengers were expected to be transferred to Christmas Island.

Do you know more? Email n.obrien@fairfaxmedia.com.au

AAP reports: A refugee advocate, Jack Smit, of the human rights group Project SafeCom, said today that the asylum seekers are most likely on Christmas Island.

A boat matching the description of the one believed to be missing en route from Jakarta arrived in Australia earlier this month, according to a federal government website.

But Mr Smit said he was ‘‘very confident’’ the boat arrived in Australian waters earlier this month.

Mr Smit said it was important that boats were only reported missing when they had failed to turn up.

‘‘I am very confident this is the same boat,’’ he said today.

‘‘It’s really clear because as soon as a boat arrives the minister releases a press release.

‘‘We can’t confirm anything because if the boat is missing, it’s missing (but) a lot of people will now be concerned with no reason.’’


Back to sievx.com