Refugees blame people smugglers in boat tragedy

Annastashya Emmanuelle
Jakarta Post
26 October 2001

Bogor, West Java -
Grief has turned to rage and bitterness for the middle eastern refugees here who lost family members and friends when their vessel, bound for Australia's Christmas Island, capsized in the Java Sea on Friday.

Most of them blamed the traffickers, who they claimed to have forced them at gun point to board the unseaworthy boat despite their protests over its obviously poor condition.

"When I see these people again I will kill them with my own hands..," Sadeeq Razak, an angry Iraqi, told The Jakarta Post.

"Because of them, I lost almost everything that matters to me," he said while trying to calm his two-year-old daughter Kautsar who had been crying constantly.

Another migrant, Jalal Mohsen, who had cousins killed in the accident, identified the smugglers as Abo Kossi, an Egyptian national, Kaled and Maytham from Iraq and three Indonesians whose name he could not recall.

Abo Kossi is apparently the man identified by the authorities as Abu Kasim, who is believed to be the mastermind of the human smuggling operations in collusion with others throughout Indonesia.

A total of 418 asylum-seekers -- most of whom were from Iraq, while the rest were escaping oppressive situations in Afghanistan, Palestine and Algeria -- boarded a boat which was supposed to take them from Bandar Lampung on Sumatra, to Christmas Island.

International refugee agencies had earlier reported that as many as 30 passengers on the ill-fated voyage had already been officially approved to receive refugee status, and sent to a third country. However, that country was not necessarily going to be Australia, which was the intended destination last week.

They left on Thursday morning under clear skies, but as night fell, so did the rain. It poured into the boat unceasingly and the tiny ship was tossed around by waves. Three hours later the bilge pump failed as the engine died, and seawater filled the boat.

"People on the boat were shouting 'We're going to die!'.. as the boat listed radically to starboard, then completely turned over with many people trapped inside," an Iraqi woman, Amal Hassan, said.

"Some were thrown into the sea by powerful waves including me and my son... I watched the others drowning with the boat," Amal said as tears flowed.

While others were clinging to flotsam, Amal's 19-year-old son swam to her and told her that he would like to kiss her goodbye for the last time.

"He was so convinced that we would all die... but I told him that we must have faith and told him to hang on to his piece of flotsam," she told the Post.

Later, Amal said, her son took a life jacket worn by a deceased woman who was floating near them, and put it on her.

He took another life jacket from a lifeless boy and wore it himself while clinging to a piece of wood.

"The amount of life jackets on board was not near enough to cover even half of us," Amal recalled with disgust.

Meanwhile, Kautsar, who was put on her father's shoulder, witnessed her mother gasping for air in the turbulent water before she finally let go of her piece of the shattered boat and drowned.

"My wife and I were both clinging to some wood to stay afloat while at the same time I was trying to keep Kautsar on my shoulders," Sadeeq said through a translator.

After drifting in the water for about 30 hours, 44 people were rescued by passing fishermen who later notified the police over the radio.

The survivors were then taken to Jakarta, and were greeted by the police and doctors who immediately began administering first-aid to the survivors.

They were eventually taken back to Wisma Palar in Bogor, and the Villa Ragal in Cisarua, West Java, which are being used as holding facilities while their refugee claims are processed.


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