Palestinian envoy raised alarm about missing asylum boat

August 16, 2012
Natalie O'Brien

The federal government has known for weeks that another asylum seeker boat, this one with dozens of Palestinians on board, had disappeared yet it kept silent about the details.

The boat carrying 67 passengers, including 28 Palestinians, was last heard from 48 days ago after setting sail from Indonesia.

The Palestinian government representative in Australia, Dr Izzat Abdulhadi, told the Herald he had raised the alarm about three weeks ago, passing on the names of the missing Palestinians. He was told the government was investigating but that more than one boat had gone missing.

"This is unacceptable and the government must explain why they have left families waiting so long"

But Dr Abdulhadi said he had heard nothing further until after media reports that the boat was missing and feared sunk. He was told on Tuesday that the Palestinians believed to have been on the boat were not in detention in Australia.

''They kept quiet on this. They were not efficient in searching. We sent all the names we had three weeks ago. But we had heard nothing until now.''

Dr Abdulhadi said it was his office that rang Maritime Safety to tell them a boat was missing - but they had been ''transferred'' to the Department of Immigration.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said it did not receive any distress calls from or about an asylum seeker boat in the immediate days after the boat was believed to have vanished. As a result there were no searches undertaken for the vessel.

The revelations come as the Parliament yesterday passed legislation to reinstate offshore processing in a bid to dissuade boat arrivals.

A spokesman for the Minister for Home Affairs, Jason Clare, said he had only become aware of reports of the missing vessel on August 9.

The spokesman said that family members concerned about relatives who had not made contact after boarding an asylum seeker boat should contact the Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

The Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it was ''another example of the inherent conflict between the government's preference for deterring people from seeking protection and our obligation to safety of life at sea''.

''This is unacceptable and the government must explain why they have left families waiting so long,'' she said.

The refugee advocates Pamela Curr, from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and Ian Rintoul, from the Refugee Action Coalition, have also been contacting authorities since last month after relatives and friends of the missing people failed to get answers from officials.

Distressed relatives said they were told by officials that asylum seekers could be in Australia for up to two months before they get to make any phone calls.

Members of the Palestinian community in Australia told the Herald that the last contact with the passengers was on June 29 after they had boarded the boat near Jakarta.

Meanwhile Malaysia's highest court yesterday cleared the way for an Afghan man, Said Mir Bahrami, to be extradited to Australia on 25 counts of people smuggling in 2010 and 2011.

Sri Lanka's navy also said yesterday that it had intercepted a fishing boat carrying 43 people illegally to Australia.

The passengers were handed over to police.


Back to