Asylum-seeker says Australian Federal Police "left us adrift"

July 18, 2009

AN Afghan asylum-seeker arrested after several days lost at sea claims Australian Federal Police told him a helicopter and boats would be sent to rescue him and up to 85 others.



Ali Yewar, 28, a passenger on an asylum-seeker vessel that was bound for Australia and feared lost in Indonesian waters, told The Australian yesterday he called the AFP and gave readings from an onboard GPS device to pinpoint the location of the group’s boat as it foundered off the eastern Indonesian island of Flores.

Mr Yewar, also known as Juma Khan, said no help had arrived.

“For four nights we drifted but no one came to help us as they promised,” he said. “I spoke to Australians, to Indonesians, but no one came. Our boat was being pushed around in the heavy wind, our engine was seized and the boat was full of water.”

Mr Yewar was aboard an asylum-seeker vessel that has perplexed and confused Australian and Indonesian authorities since it was first reported missing.

It was initially thought lost at sea last Tuesday, then prematurely reported as found by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith late on Wednesday. Over the weekend, some of the boat’s Afghan passengers were arrested by Indonesian authorities on Sumbawa island and an empty boat was found near the island town of Bima.

Mr Smith said yesterday the passengers were safe but not all accounted for. “Our most recent advice from Indonesian officials is that the vessel has been located and the passengers dispersed,” he said.

“Embassy officials, AFP officers in our office in Jakarta, have spoken to two of the passengers who were on board and the telephone advice from the passengers to the AFP officers is that all of the passengers on board are safe – that’s the most recent advice I have.

“They’ve dispersed, so not all passengers are accounted for, but the advice that we have from two passengers is that all the passengers were safe prior to their dispersal.”

However, Mr Yewar said he feared his cousin was among a group of asylum-seekers from the boat who may have drowned.

Mr Smith’s announcement came as another suspected asylum-seeker vessel arrived at Christmas Island. The wooden boat, with its cargo of 73 passengers and crew, was the 17th vessel to arrive this year. More than 900 undocumented migrants and 35 crew have been intercepted in Australian waters this year.

The ship was intercepted 80 nautical miles off Christmas Island by the Royal Australian Navy patrol boat Armidale.

The passengers were yesterday being processed for identity, health and security checks before joining hundreds of others on the island’s immigration detention centre, which is close to capacity.

Authorities have not said where the suspected asylum-seekers had travelled from.

Mr Yewar, who was yesterday being held on Sumbawa, said that after the boat he was travelling in started drifting, he raised the alarm. This included, he said, calling Jakarta-based AFP officers, who alerted their Indonesian counterparts to the group’s plight.

Mr Yewar had also sent an SOS text message to contacts in Pakistan, who relayed it to Australian refugee advocate Ian Rintoul. Mr Rintoul called Australian authorities to ensure they knew of the group’s predicament.

“The Australian police asked me if the boat had a GPS,” Mr Yewar said. “I didn’t know what a GPS was, but I asked the captain and he said, ‘it’s this’. I told the police the reading on it.”

The Indonesian authorities were given those co-ordinates by the AFP in an SMS that was subsequently distributed widely through various agencies, but they were unable to locate the boat.

An AFP spokesman refused to confirm whether it had received a call from anyone on the boat. Nor would it confirm or deny whether any of its officers spoke to people on the boat. The spokesman also refused to detail whether information was passed on to the Indonesian police.

Mr Yewar said the crew eventually dropped the asylum-seekers on an unknown island and left.

He admitted the group’s intention had been to sail to Australia where members would seek asylum, “because of course I like Australia and I want to be in Australia, and I promise that, whether it is illegally or legally, I will keep trying to do that”.

Mr Yewar, who is from Kabul, refused to say where the boat’s voyage had begun or to give any details of the people-smuggling agents he had used to make the journey.

At least 29 of the original members of that group are now in detention on Sumbawa, an island to the east of Bali and a common staging point for boat journeys to Australia.

Mr Yewar said he was worried that up to 30 more of the group had gone missing.

He said he had no idea whether that was because they had gone overboard while the boat was battling heavy seas off Flores where it first ran into trouble, or whether it was because they had disappeared after being dropped on the unnamed island.

Indonesian police said local fishermen had transported the asylum-seekers to the town of Bima, on Sumbawa, where they were eventually arrested.

Some were seized at a bus terminal, apparently preparing to head west back to Jakarta through a series of island-hopping connections. Others, including Mr Yewar, were found in a local village.

Mr Yewar said he had applied in Jakarta three months ago for refugee status through the UN High Commissioner for Refugees – an increasingly common way for people fleeing war and persecution in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and elsewhere to speed up their formal resettlement in countries such as Australia.

Many refugees use the resultant informal Indonesian visa to arrange the dangerous journey by sea to Australia, where they hope their resettlement attempts will be dealt with even faster.

Responding to the arrival of the lastest asylum-seeker vessel at Christmas Island, the Rudd government said the upsurge in asylum-seeker arrivals was part of a global phenomenon linked to instability and war in countries such as Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan and more recently Sri Lanka.

“The boat was detected before it reached the contigious zone and our migration zone and was kept under constant surveillance,” Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said in a statement on the weekend.

“This demonstrates that our system of border protection is strong and effective.

“The group will be transferred to Christmas Island where they will undergo security, identity and health checks to establish their identity and reasons for travel.”

The latest boatload of arrivals brings the total number of people detained on Christmas Island to 725.

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Afghan asylum-seekers ‘rescued’ off Indonesia after AFP tip-off

July 9, 2009

WAST: Thursday 09/07/2009 @ 13:50

UP to 74 Afghan asylum-seekers have been found safe after fears their fishing boat had sunk in dangerous Indonesian waters, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said last night.

A search had been launched for the boat following a tip-off from Australian Federal Police.

The boat, which was reported to be foundering off Komodo island in the country’s east, had been under surveillance by Australian police based in Jakarta.

Local authorities at Labuhanbajo, on Flores island, were alerted to the boat’s plight late on Tuesday by a text message from Australian police.

The boat’s Indonesian crew and the asylum-seekers, who included women and children, were near land but the vessel was sinking fast and none of them could swim, the message said.

The text message, a copy of which has been obtained by The Australian, said the boat was “within sight of land but sinking no lifejackets” and that “local police have been notified appro 72-74 on board including woman and children please notify your counterparts urgently”. The head of Labuhanbajo port, Pariman, said an all-day search was launched before first light yesterday as a result of the tip-off but no sign of the boat was found.

Mr Smith said last night the boat had been found.

“Indonesian officials have advised Australian officials in Indonesia that the boat has been located. It hasn’t sunk,” he told ABC TV’s Lateline program.

“All on board … are, on our advice, are safe.”

However, there was confusion over the fate of the boat late last night, with Indonesian military officials on Flores saying:”We’ve found nothing. We are the navy here and we’ve found nothing.”

Australia and Indonesia have recently increased co-operation in fighting people-smuggling, amid a fresh wave of asylum-seeker vessels.

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14th Asylum seekers boat intercepted

June 24, 2009

Caption:

The 14th Boat since Kevin Rudd to Office.

CANBERRA – AN AUSTRALIAN official says border patrols have intercepted a boat carrying 49 apparent asylum seekers off the country’s northern coast.

The small boat, with four crew members, was the 14th such vessel to be detained in Australian waters this year.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor says the passengers will be taken to Christmas Island, an Indian Ocean territory where the government detains and processes refugee applicants.

O’Connor said in a statement Tuesday that the passengers will undergo health, security, identity and other checks.

Their nationalities were not immediately known.

Most of the recent asylum seekers have come from Afghanistan, Iran or Sri Lanka. — AP


Police ‘cautiously’ release names of asylum-seekers

June 17, 2009







THE names of five Afghan asylum-seekers who died in a boat explosion off the coast of Australia have been released by Northern Territory police.

Acting Commander Peter Bravos said the “unusual step” had been taken because there had been problems establishing their identities and police still had questions about the accuracy of the names.

“It has been decided to take the unusual step of releasing the names of those believed to be the deceased in the hope that others may have information which will further assist us with this process,” Comm Bravos said.

Awaz Nader, 50, Baquer Husani, 26, Mohammed Amen Zamen, 38, Mohammed Hasan Ayobi, 45, Muzafar Ali Safarali, 45, are among the names NT police have “cautiously” made public.

Three bodies were found at the blast scene while two bodies went missing in the surrounding water.

It is not known which names correspond to the recovered bodies.

Comm Bravos said the formal identification of the five men was continuing.

“A number of difficulties are delaying the process,” he said.

“We believe all five of the deceased are Afghan nationals and the current war status in Afghanistan is further hindering our efforts.”

It’s still unclear what caused the blast, which also injured more than 40 people near Ashmore Reef on April 16.

The vessel, carrying 47 Afghan asylum-seekers and two crew, had been intercepted the previous day and was waiting to be escorted to Christmas Island when the incident occurred.

NT police – conducting an investigation into the incident for the NT coroner – is yet to reveal whether the blast was an accident or the result of sabotage.

But Comm Bravos said more than 130 statements had now been taken, including 44 interviews.

A second round of interviews started last week.

A separate investigation is being carried out by the Australian Federal Police into people-smuggling.

NT police can be contacted by anyone with information on (08) 8922 1505.


Afghan who tried to return but ended up in dire straits

May 30, 2009

BOARDING the ill-fated boat of asylum seekers in Indonesia last week, Ali Talash must have had a strange sense of deja vu.

Now lying injured in the Royal Perth Hospital, it was Mr Talash’s second trip to Australia on an Indonesian boat.

In 1999, as the Taliban’s control of Afghanistan tightened and the persecution of his Hazara community increased, Mr Talash said goodbye to his wife and children. He was taken by people smugglers through Pakistan and Iran, then flown to Malaysia and on to Indonesia, where he boarded a boat.

That boat was intercepted and he spent about a year in immigration detention before being granted a temporary protection visa. He moved to Auburn, in Sydney’s south-west, and spent the next four years working as a tiler.

But as the war in Afghanistan progressed he became hopeful his country may have stabilised.

Mr Talash, who is in his 40s, was depressed and missing his wife and children, whom he could not see because the conditions of his visa meant he was not allowed to leave Australia.

So in 2003 he decided to go back to Afghanistan.

Mr Talash called a friend in Perth, Salman Rahmani, and told him of his decision.

“I said, ‘If you go maybe you will (get) killed’ — but he said, ‘It’s been so long, I must see my family’,” Mr Rahmani said.

“He said he couldn’t sleep in the night, he was very worried about his children and after he went back to Afghanistan it was very bad.

“It’s sad, because Ali Talash missed (his chance to get) a permanent visa. Everybody else, me, our friends, we got permanent visas and became citizens, but he went home. By now he would have been a citizen, it’s very sad.”

But when Mr Talash returned to Afghanistan he found it still a violent, chaotic place and decided to try to get his family to Australia.

Increasingly frustrated by the lack of help from Australian embassies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, earlier this year he decided to make a perilous return journey.

The boat carrying him and 48 other asylum seekers was intercepted by the Australian Navy, and before they reached the safety of Christmas Island, there was an explosion on board, knocking many of them into the water.

Mr Rahmani’s son Jarajo Zirak, 20, has been going to Royal Perth Hospital every day since Friday, trying to get information about Mr Talash’s condition.

Mr Talash’s wife called Mr Zirak on Friday, scared her husband had died. So far, Mr Zirak has been able to tell only that Mr Talash is alive, with officials unwilling to give details.

“She called me and was crying and was worried,” Mr Zirak said. “She called me last night and I said there was no news yet. For the first few days she called me every two hours.”


Indonesia stops nearly 900 asylum seekers: AFP

May 30, 2009

Australian Federal Police (AFP) commissioner Mick Keelty says authorities in Indonesia have stopped nearly 900 suspected asylum seekers from travelling to Australia since September last year.

Thirteen boatloads of asylum seekers have arrived in Australia in the past five months.

The Navy intercepted the latest boatload near Ashmore Island off the north-west coast of Australia on Sunday.

“Since September 2008, in Indonesia, there have been 40 identified disruptions comprising of 887 foreign nationals suspected of being in transit or have entered Indonesia for the purpose of travelling to Australia illegally,” Commissioner Keelty said.


Police yet to reveal cause of fatal boat blast

May 30, 2009

Five people were killed in the April 16 explosion near Ashmore Reef. (File photo)

Five people were killed in the April 16 explosion near Ashmore Reef. (File photo) (Department of Defence)

Northern Territory Police are still to determine whether a fatal boat explosion near Ashmore Reef last month was a result of sabotage or an accident.

They have interviewed 41 asylum seekers who were on the boat, known as the SIEV 36.

Five people were killed in the April 16 explosion.

Of the 44 people rescued, three remain in a stable condition at the burns units of the Royal Perth and Royal Brisbane hospitals.

Earlier this month, government sources told the ABC fuel was deliberately poured on the boat deck as a threat, after the Navy intercepted the vessel.

It is alleged those on board feared they would be turned back to Indonesia.

However, the head of the Afghan community in Western Australia says some of the survivors now in immigration detention say it was an accident.

The Immigration Department is still to interview the survivors.

The asylum seekers are believed to be from Afghanistan, but the department cannot formally identify them until their interviews are finished.

Immigration says its focus remains on providing support and welfare to the group.


Turnbull wants to visit injured asylum seekers

April 23, 2009


[Caption: Medical staff at Royal Darwin Hospital treat one of the asylum seekers. (Royal Darwin Hospital)]

The Federal Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, says he has requested to meet some of the asylum seekers who are being treated in the Darwin hospital.

Nine men are still in the hospital after last week’s fatal explosion on a boat carrying asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

The blast, near Ashmore Reef, claimed the lives of five people and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by Northern Territory authorities.

Mr Turnbull has told ABC Radio in Darwin he will be visiting the hospital to thank the medical staff who helped treat the victims.

He says he wants to meet some of the asylum seekers too.

“I’d very much like to, but the question is whether that will be made available,” he said.

“We have certainly [have] sought to do that but my understanding is that’s not going to be possible.”

For a larger image size..please click here…>>http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/23/2550589.htm


Turnbull wants to visit injured asylum seekers

April 23, 2009


[Caption: Medical staff at Royal Darwin Hospital treat one of the asylum seekers. (Royal Darwin Hospital)]

The Federal Opposition Leader, Malcolm Turnbull, says he has requested to meet some of the asylum seekers who are being treated in the Darwin hospital.

Nine men are still in the hospital after last week’s fatal explosion on a boat carrying asylum seekers from Afghanistan.

The blast, near Ashmore Reef, claimed the lives of five people and is the subject of an ongoing investigation by Northern Territory authorities.

Mr Turnbull has told ABC Radio in Darwin he will be visiting the hospital to thank the medical staff who helped treat the victims.

He says he wants to meet some of the asylum seekers too.

“I’d very much like to, but the question is whether that will be made available,” he said.

“We have certainly [have] sought to do that but my understanding is that’s not going to be possible.”

For a larger image size..please click here…>>http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/04/23/2550589.htm


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