They called and called, but got no answers

Natalie O'Brien
June 3, 2012

WHEN relatives began phoning, visiting and texting Department of Immigration officers searching for the boatload of missing Hazaras - and voicing fears that their loved ones had drowned - the department told them ''that was not something that we were considering''.

Instead they were told their relatives were likely to still be in Indonesia and unable to contact them.

Emails obtained by The Sun-Herald from the department under freedom of information laws reveal the confusion, desperation and misinformation that the relatives had to endure in the months after the boat vanished in October 2009.

One man flew from Melbourne to the Darwin Immigration Detention Centre to search for his cousin. A niece of a missing passenger told the department her father had phoned contacts in Indonesia four days after the boat went missing, and was ''assured that her uncle would be in international waters by then''.

A man searching for his cousin relayed a fanciful story to Australian immigration officers that the boat had been intercepted by Sri Lankan authorities. He wanted to believe it was true. As the rumour went, the missing were ''currently living in a tent somewhere near a beach in the custody of the Sri Lankan police'', Immigration reported.

After inquiries kept coming in, officers at Immigration's intelligence analysis section started to consider there might be something to the calls.

One officer suggested a hotline be established. ''I think we are missing a good intel opportunity - if an info hotline was set up for these people to ring, manned by intel officers, you'd get a lot of good info,'' she said in an email.


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