Fears for loved ones lost in ocean crossing

Kate Bastians,
The West Australian Updated August 11, 2012, 2:50 am

More than 60 asylum seekers are missing, presumed dead - including a four-year-old boy - after a boat that left Indonesia for Australia six weeks ago disappeared without trace.

Family and friends of the missing have grave fears that the boat sank on the way to Christmas Island.

Among the missing is Mohammed Rashad Sharif Al-Yassin, his wife Noura Mahmoud Rakeza and their son Yousif Mohammad Rashad Al-Yassin, who was to have turned four during the ill-fated journey.

The boat left Indonesia on June 28.

Ammar Ahmad, 30, said his brother Abdul-Rahman Ahmad, 32, was among 28 Palestinians on the boat who were fleeing Iraq.

It is believed there were also Iraqis, Syrians and Iranians on board.

Mr Ahmad, who lives in Queensland, said his family feared they may never see his brother again. They had not heard from him since June 29.

"My father spoke to him when he was on the boat, it had just entered Australian waters but there has been no other contact," he said.

Mr Ahmad said his brother's wife was in hospital in Iraq after suffering a mental breakdown because she could not come to terms with the possibility that their two sons, Ahmad, five, and Fade, four, had been left without a father.

"They call me and I don't know what to do . . . there hasn't been any news about him," he said.

Mr Ahmad said his brother was among many Palestinians who fled to Cyprus from Iraq because they feared being murdered by Shi'ite militias who accused them of supporting Saddam Hussein's regime and al-Qaida.

He said his brother decided to make the treacherous journey to Australia when his welfare payments were cancelled by the Cypriot Government and he was forbidden from working to provide for his family in Iraq.

Also among the missing are Abdul-Nasser and his wife Tajali Zuhair Adel Al-Nabulsi.

Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul said it was the third boat, that he knew of, to go missing. All had been trying to get from Indonesia to Australia.

A spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said they were aware of "claims" the vessel had gone missing and they were investigating.

Suheir Zeidan Gedeon, a counsellor with the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia - widely known as Australia's Palestinian embassy - said she had been in contact with the Department of Immigration which was also investigating the disappearance.

She said they had been provided with a list of the missing people more than two weeks ago, which she hoped they were using to cross-reference with the asylum seekers in Australian detention centres.

A spokesman for the department said new boat arrivals were allowed to call their loved ones when they arrived.

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