The 2009 missing Hazara boat
Image: "353 candles", by Nathalie Haymann. The painting is no 36/36 from a series about the sinking of SIEVX on October 19, 2001, when 353 asylum seekers enroute to Australia drowned as their boat sank. See www.sinkingofsievxpaintings.com
On October 2, 2009, a boat with 105 refugees sailed from an unknown Indonesian port to Australia. One of the passengers, Mirza Hussain Jaffari, phoned his family in New York to let them know they were on their way now.
Nothing more was heard of Mirza, or from anyone else on board. Over the next couple of weeks, then months, we started receiving phone calls from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Indonesia and New York, and slowly a picture emerged; a picture that remained incomplete and a puzzle with most pieces missing.
We heard from the families of Mirza and Mr Heidari (below), we brought them in contact with reporters in Australia and Indonesia - but we acknowledged there was not much we could do in addition to ensure reportage of the little we did know.
Below is the collection of news items about the boat that did not arrive. The voyage was unfinished, and the reportage remained incomplete also. "Lest we Forget" says the Facebook note on this page. Indeed.
30 December 2010: Missing boats or media sensation? - When the West Australian first broke the story of claims that a boat with asylum seekers was feared missing, the reporter based her story on claims of just one advocate, they were not cross-checked, and the report confidently stated the number of missing passengers at 97, and a 'rumour' that a vessel had arrived on December 2, 2010.
19 October 2005: The SIEV X Landmark of Conscience - "When the evening ended, senators, members of the ACT assembly, officials from museums and planning authorities, and most importantly the refugees themselves, all expressed the same view. You must build it."
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
Grave fears for 102 missing boat people
Grave fears are held for 102 asylum seekers who never arrived in Australian waters after setting off on a boat in Indonesia in October last year.
WA human rights group Project SafeCom said friends and family members have not heard from any of the boat people since they departed.
"We have been informed that amongst the passengers nobody has heard from since their presumed departure, are Hazaras from Afghanistan, including a brother of a young Hazara refugee in Brisbane," Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit stated.
"Queensland Hazara community member Hassan Ghulam started receiving messages about the missing boat a few weeks ago and he shares our concern."
"Mr Ghulam has told Project SafeCom that community members have travelled to Indonesia on a fact-finding mission, and that they have even contacted sources in Pakistan, but they have been unsuccessful in getting any information about the welfare of the passengers or news of the boat and what happened during the voyage.
"We need to know what happened to this boat and what happened during this voyage," Mr Smit said.
"If it was monitored by Indonesia on behalf of the Australian government, we need to know whether it was intercepted by Indonesian authorities.
"Conversely, if its voyage was monitored in Australian waters by Australian maritime and border protection authorities, we need to know what happened to the boat. If the boat perished, we need to hear that from the authorities."
Mr Smit said the Rudd government was diligent when reporting about boat arrivals and it should do the same when something goes wrong.
"We absolutely expect the same rigorous compliance in reporting when something goes wrong with a vessel.
"No political pain and rancour for the Rudd government would ever justify burying information and maintaining silence and secrecy around a boatload of asylum seekers heading for Australia that perishes," Mr Smit said.
Hazara boat bound for Australia missing
January 17, 2010 - 3:49PM
A boatload of asylum seekers believed to have set off from Indonesian waters for Australia in October has never arrived, the Afghani refugee community says.
Brisbane-based Hassan Ghulam said worried relatives of 105 ethnic Hazaras believed to have left Indonesia on October 2 had started contacting him weeks ago.
Hazara are a Persian-speaking ethnic group who live mainly in the central region of Afghanistan.
"A young gentleman, he had a brother on that boat, he contacted me (saying) that the boat departed Indonesia on October 2 with 105 Hazaras on it," Mr Ghulam said.
"He asked if I had heard anything on the arrivals because he had had no news for quite some time."
Mr Ghulam said other Australian-based Hazaras who had learnt that their relatives were on the boat had become anxious.
Checks with the Department of Immigration and Customs and Border Protection had revealed nothing about the fate of the boat or those on board, Mr Ghulam said.
Contacts of the men had travelled to Indonesia and checked detention centres but had found no sign of them, he said.
"There was no news at all. The gentleman contacted me again and he had no news," Mr Ghulam said.
"He told me there were people who made inquiries, travelled to Indonesia, checked the detention centres et cetera and there is no sign of the 105 people."
Jack Smit of human rights group Project SafeCom Inc said it was important to know what happened to the boat and what happened during the voyage.
"If it was monitored by Indonesia on behalf of the Australian government, we need to know whether it was intercepted by Indonesian authorities," Mr Smit said.
"Conversely, if its voyage was monitored in Australian waters by Australian maritime and border protection authorities, we need to know what happened to the boat. If the boat perished, we need to hear that from the authorities."
A Department of Immigration spokeswoman said the department could not reveal the identities of asylum seekers being processed for their own protection.
But asylum seekers are granted access to telephones to contact their families on arrival, she said.
© 2010 AAP
Fears for 100 Afghan asylum seekers bound for Australia
SYDNEY (Reuters) - More than 100 Afghan asylum-seekers who left Indonesia by boat for Australia three months ago have not been heard from and are assumed to have been lost at sea, refugee activists said on Sunday.
The boat is one of many that left Indonesia for Australia in 2009 bringing hundreds of asylum-seekers, mainly from war-ravaged countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
It has left Australia's processing facility on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean struggling to cope. Critics have blamed a soft stance on asylum-seekers by Australia's Labor government for the influx.
Relatives in Australia have heard no news from the 105 ethnic Hazaras who left Indonesia on October 2 in a voyage organized by a people-smuggling syndicate, activist Hassan Ghulam told Reuters. Three Indonesian crew were also aboard.
Ghulam said he had contacted Australian immigration and border protection authorities but they had given no information.
Australia receives a fraction of what the United Nations estimates to be around 15 million refugees globally, but the issue divides Australian voters and has the potential to dent Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's high popularity in opinion polls.
Children feared to be on missing boat
Nicola Berkovic and Brendan Nicholson
Members of the Afghan community in Brisbane believe women and children were among 105 people on a boat which they fear has sunk after leaving Indonesia for Australia on October 2.
However, a spokesman for Immigration and Acting Home Affairs Minister Chris Evans yesterday said the government was not aware of a boat having sunk in Australian waters.
"If people have information that a boat has sunk, we urge them to contact the Australian Maritime Safety Authority," the spokesman said.
Hazara community spokesman Hassan Ghulam, of Brisbane, said he'd been told by detainees on Christmas Island that four families, including children, were on the boat which may have sunk in Indonesian, international or Australian waters.
Mr Ghulam said a 25-year-old Hazara man, Barkat Ali, was believed to be on board the boat and concerns were raised by the man's brother, who lives in Brisbane.
"There are people who are related to these 105 people but they are not coming forward because they are afraid of being accused of encouraging their family to make this journey, but this is truly not the case," he said.
He said checks with the Department of Immigration, and Customs and Border Protection, had revealed nothing.
Meanwhile, the opposition said the government must reveal what it planned to do with five Sri Lankan asylum-seekers on Christmas Island who were declared by ASIO as security risks.
The Australian revealed this month that four of the Tamil refugees picked up by the Customs vessel Oceanic Viking had been issued adverse security assessments, making them ineligible for visas. One of those was a woman who travelled to Australia with her two young children.
Her husband, who travelled to Australia by boat some months ago, was also refused a visa on security grounds.
Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said other countries would be well aware that the four men and a woman now carried that stamp and they'd be reluctant to accept them.
"The simple fact is they will find it exceedingly difficult to settle these people somewhere else now that our security agency has said they are a security threat."
Senator Evans said that the family would not be issued any type of visa. "We're determined that these people be resettled elsewhere," he said.
The government conceded it may take some time to find a third country willing to take the five.
A spokesman for Senator Evans said that to protect Australia, those who received adverse findings would be held on Christmas Island while Australia explored options for their future relocation or they departed voluntarily.
Questions raised over mystery asylum boat
ABC The World Today
PETER CAVE: The family of an Afghan man who's gone missing en route to Australia have called on the Federal Government to find out what may have happened to him. The family fears that Mirza Hussain Jaffari was on a boat which may have sunk after leaving Indonesia in October.
Last month, members of the Afghan community in Brisbane expressed concern about the vessel, which they think had more than 100 people on board. But the Australian Government says it knows nothing about the boat.
David Weber reports.
DAVID WEBER: In early October, Mirza Hussain Jaffari apparently called his family from Indonesia, saying he was on a boat about to head towards Australia. He said 107 people were on the boat, which was new.
Mirza Hussain Jaffari's cousin, Jaffar Hussain, is speaking from Afghanistan.
JAFFAR HUSSAIN: Mirza Hussain Jaffari spoke to his family in early October, probably the 2nd of October at midnight when he last time called his family and said that he's now leaving for Australia by boat.
DAVID WEBER: He did not say where he was leaving from?
JAFFAR HUSSAIN: No he did not mention about the place he was leaving from because he was, maybe he didn't thought it necessary because his family doesn't know about Indonesia at all. He said that there are other Hazaras, other Afghans, who are on board.
DAVID WEBER: Why did Mirza Hussain Jaffari leave Afghanistan?
JAFFAR HUSSAIN: There are various reasons. The first thing is really security and political instability in Afghanistan. These village has been under attack for the last three years by Taliban-supported Kuchi tribes.
DAVID WEBER: Does he have a wife and children?
JAFFAR HUSSAIN: No he does not have a wife and children. He has a mother, three sisters, one younger brother.
DAVID WEBER: So it was a big decision for him to go because he had people relying on him in Afghanistan?
JAFFAR HUSSAIN: Yes it was a very difficult decision for him and we also don't know how he paid thousands of dollars to smugglers to take him to Australia. Where did he find it from? Maybe he sold a part of his land or something.
DAVID WEBER: Mr Hussain has called on the Australian Government to hold an investigation, and release any information it may have.
JAFFAR HUSSAIN: If they are in the custody of the Australian Government, if they are held in any detention centres, the families have not heard from their relatives for last three months and they are very much concerned and worried.
If the Australian Government does not have any information about the boat, we appeal from the Government of Australia to contact the authorities in Indonesia and start a search and rescue operation for them.
DAVID WEBER: A spokesman for the Federal Government says there's no evidence that a boatload of more than 100 people left Indonesia on or about October the 2nd and he says it's only speculation that a vessel sank.
PETER CAVE: David Weber reporting.
Australia knew of asylum boat's distress
THE federal government knew a boat leaving Indonesia was in peril before it disappeared with more than 100 asylum seekers trying to reach Australia.
Frantic relatives have not heard from the missing for more than seven months and are demanding to know how a boat could vanish with the Australian and Indonesian governments aware of its existence.
The boat left Indonesia on October 2. Australian authorities learnt a vessel was in distress the next day but Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said ''credible information'' showed its difficulties had been resolved.
No details of a resolution have been offered to New Yorker Mohamad Heidari, whose search for his teenage brother has taken him to Pakistan and Indonesia.
Mr Heidari, originally from Afghanistan, remains frustrated that authorities have been unable to shed light on what happened.
Habib Heidari had called his brother excitedly just before setting sail with the other asylum seekers. "We were very worried when he wanted to take this boat," Mr Heidari said. "He said, 'Don't worry, it is safe.'"
The Heidari family fled Afghanistan in 1999 as the Taliban homed in on their village.
"I lost the rest of my family and went to Iran," Mr Heidari said. He was accepted as a refugee in the US in 2003.
Habib left his new home in Pakistan for Australia. He paid $US12,000 to a people-smuggling syndicate and took the familiar route, by plane with a fake passport to Malaysia and then down to Indonesia before hooking up with a boat.
"There were many people on this boat; families, mothers with children," his brother said in Jakarta. "The Indonesian and Australian authorities have told us nothing. What happened to this boat? Where did it sink? There are so many unanswered questions."
Panicked calls to the agents in the days after the boat went missing were met with replies that it had arrived safely, and demands for a final payment.
The money was paid but there were no phone calls or emails from those on the boat.
Mr Heidari said the boat was organised by smugglers with agents in Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia. But the agents in Pakistan who were paid the last instalment disappeared months ago, and are believed to have tried to reach Australia.
The Australian government shared information with the Indonesian government, believing the boat to be in that country's search-and-rescue zone.
Surveillance by Border Protection Command, and actions by Indonesian authorities, on October 3 failed to turn up a vessel in distress.
"There has been no confirmation of the alleged vessel's location," Mr O'Connor said.
Body sighted before boat search aborted
A SENATE committee yesterday heard that a lifeless body was spotted on a makeshift tyre raft before the Australian search for five Tamil asylum seekers off the Cocos Islands was called off.
The committee heard at least one person was sighted by Australian search aircraft before a later sea search that failed to recover bodies was aborted.
The Sri Lankan asylum seekers had cast themselves adrift after their boat ran out of food and water. Crew from a bulk carrier sent to the vessel's aid believe the men were taken by sharks.
Yesterday, the head of Customs and Border Protection, Michael Carmody, said an Orion had seen a man from the air.
"They reported a body on one of the tubes," he said. "It was motionless."
A later search by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority located no bodies, he said.
Australian authorities first became aware the Sri Lankan boat was in distress after a passenger's friend called the Australian Maritime Safety Authority from London.
Customs often received tip-offs from people overseas when boats failed to arrive at their intended destination, Mr Carmody said.
But unlike the May incident, another boat missing since last October never reached Australia's search and rescue waters and contact was not made with the boat directly.
In that instance, Customs says it did "everything it could possibly and reasonably do", Mr Carmody said.
That people-smuggling venture left Indonesia with more than 100 asylum seekers and was unusually large, he said.
"I can't be sure what happened. The boat might have gone back to Indonesia, it might have sank," Mr Carmody said.
Follow-up interviews by immigration officials on Christmas Island unearthed no evidence that any passengers survived.
The activist Hassan Ghulam said he had received calls from worried relatives in Kandahar, Quetta, Kabul and Bamyian. Others had called from the US, Canada, Malaysia and Indonesia, he said.
"It is not acceptable for Customs to say it does not know what happened," he said. "If there is sad news, the families must be allowed to make funeral preparations."
The Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the journey underlined the dangers of taking a risky boat passage.
An air patrol did not detect any boat in distress, he said.
Refugee boat feared sunk
Senior government officials have privately conceded that a refugee boat that disappeared late last year en route to Australia probably sank, resulting in the loss of more than 100 men, women and children.
Speaking to a Senate estimates committee, Customs and Border Protection chief Michael Carmody said authorities had "credible information" the boat set out for Australia from Indonesia about October 2 last year.
The boat, if it existed, has not been seen since. Mr Carmody said it was possible the boat had returned to Indonesia.
But privately officials have told The Australian it is far more likely the boat sank, resulting in the loss of all aboard.
Relatives of those on board the vessel have so far heard nothing, suggesting those on board are dead. Mr Carmody said the boat was last thought to be within the Indonesian search-and-rescue zone, although its precise location was not known.
"The intelligence did suggest that the vessel, if it existed, was making its way to Christmas Island," he said. "So we did conduct surveillance sweeps of the approach to Christmas Island . . . but it did not arrive."
Mr Carmody said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority was told about the boat. AMSA, in turn, notified Indonesian authorities, who unsuccessfully searched for it.
There is no suggestion authorities, either Australian or Indonesian, were negligent in their attempts to assist the vessel.
Mr Carmody said Australia had passed on all information about the boat to Indonesia.
He said Australian authorities had interviewed asylum-seekers on Christmas Island seeking information on the boat.
Refugee vessels feared lost at sea
Fears are held for at least five asylum-seeker boats that have set sail from Indonesia for Christmas Island since 2008 but are missing.
A sixth boat ferrying asylum-seekers from Malaysia to Indonesia in 2008 was believed to have sunk with the loss of 86 lives, said Afghan Hazara community spokesman Hassan Ghulam.
Of the six boats whose fate was unknown, most interest was centred on a vessel reportedly carrying 105 passengers that departed from near Jakarta in early October last year, Mr Ghulam told The Australian.
The traditional wooden boat went missing in heavy seas within days of leaving port.
Mr Ghulam said relatives reported receiving panicked telephone calls from passengers.
"They were in telephone communication with a smuggler named Hijaz.
"On the second day, they (passengers) called and said the sea is very rough -- what should we do?" he said.
The boat's Indonesian captain is alleged to have warned that seas were too rough to turn the boat around so Hijaz is said to have reassured passengers that it was all right to proceed with the voyage.
The boat never made it to Christmas Island and Mr Ghulam said he had received several inquiries from relatives about its fate.
Pamela Curr, from the Melbourne-based Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, said: "I've had a number of emails from Malaysia and Holland, from people looking for relatives."
Mr Ghulam said that in 2008 another boat carrying Afghan asylum-seekers from Malaysia to Indonesia sank and at least 86 people perished.
The fate of three small boats, which set off for Christmas Island from Indonesia carrying between six to 10 passengers, was also unknown, he said.
As tensions continued to run high among detainees at Christmas Island yesterday over the wreck of the boat carrying up to 100 asylum-seekers on Wednesday, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen was asked to respond to claims by the UN refugee agency's regional representative, Richard Towle, that Australia's immigration detention system was clogged with rejected asylum-seekers.
"I don't think, in fairness, that is exactly what he said," Mr Bowen said, defending the government's "very robust returns policy".
"We have seen rejection rates increase over recent months; that takes some time to flow through the system in terms of returns."
In memory of 105 people who lost their lives in pursuit of a future in Australia
In the first week of October 2009, a tired, rotting boat chugged into the ocean along the south of Indonesia, heading for a piece of Australian soil. It was heavily laden with Hazara families; 105 people leaving unspeakable things behind them.
Nekbakht and her two boys, Reza (10) and Abbas (7) were among them. Five years previously, Nekbakht's husband had been killed by Taliban, along with their three daughters and two sons. Reza and Abbas were all that were left in Nekbakht's universe. She sold everything she had and fled Afghanistan in pursuit of a future for her sons. When I met her, Nekbakht's exhaustion and despair were etched unmistakably on her face.
Jaffar, 17 years old, travelled with his brother Mukhtar (13) to Indonesia without their parents. They had only each other. They asked me - quietly, unobtrusively - to help them come to Australia. I told them that despite being sick with frustration and powerlessness, there was nothing I could do to help them.
Golafroz, 45 years old, lost her husband and two sons to the Taliban. She fled Afghanistan, and spent four months in an Indonesian prison with her only remaining son, Sajjad (17). When I met her, she clutched me, kissed my hands, wept into my shoulder and begged for my help, and God's. She pleaded with me to find a way for her to reach Australia. In the course of one of the hardest conversations of my life, I told a sobbing widow there was nothing I could do to help her.
That boat - and its passengers - never reached land. Reports suggest that Australian officials received terrified calls of distress as the boat disintegrated in a dark ocean. I have since received calls from families in Australia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, desperately seeking information about their missing loved ones, and begging me to dispel their worst fears. I clearly cannot.
Nekbakht and her boys, the young brothers Jaffar and Mukhtar, and Golafroz and her son Sajjad perished in their pursuit of freedom. These were people so vulnerable, so haunted, so desperate to find safety that they were willing to die trying.
That truth - and the echoed pleas of these women and their sons - should pierce the minds of our policy makers, and should inform every last minute detail of Australia's approach to asylum seekers.
LEST WE FORGET.