Doomed refugees told luxurious lies

By Ainsley Pavey
April 06, 2004

ASYLUM seekers on board a doomed voyage to Australia expected their boat to be so luxurious it would be equipped with an entertainment arena, a Brisbane court was told today.

A survivor of the Siev-X disaster in 2001 told the Brisbane Magistrates Court people smugglers recounted tales of luxury so fine that passengers expected to occupy themselves with a range of onboard entertainment activities or watch fish in a tank if they became bored.

Faris Fadel Kadhem told the court the smugglers boasted the old wooden boat would leave Australia's navy "shaking in its boots".

Mr Kadhem, who lives in Melbourne on a five-year temporary protection visa, was giving evidence at a three-day committal against accused people smuggler Khaleed Daoed.

The 37-year-old Iraqi man lost his wife and daughter in the Siev-X disaster off Christmas Island on October 19, 2001 in which 353 people drowned.

He was among only 45 of the mainly Middle Eastern asylum seekers rescued after the overcrowded boat capsized in rough sea.

"All the lying about this big boat...the bottom of the boat would have all these entertainment facilities with basketball and all the sports and if you are tired or bored you can watch the fish in the tank," Mr Kadhem told the court.

Daoed faces 12 people smuggling charges under Australia's Migration Act.

The 37-year-old Iraqi goldsmith is accused of selling tickets and helping organise the journey from Indonesia and an earlier boat trip that arrived safely at Christmas Island in August 2001 with 147 people on board.

Daoed has pleaded not guilty to the charges on the grounds he was an interpreter acting on humanitarian grounds.

Smuggling mastermind Abu Quassey is serving a seven-year jail term after being tried in Egypt last year over the disaster.

Mr Kadhem told the court the smugglers lied to justify a four-month delay after he paid for the journey in gold.

He said Daoed told him Quassey had meetings with the harbour chief and commissioner of police in the village of Cisarua in Indonesia, as well as with the Indonesian immigration minister.

"I don't know if Abu Quassey was the king of Britain or what," Mr Kadhem said.

At one point, he stood up and likened Daoed to former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Earlier, an Iraqi refugee told the court Indonesian police helped load the ship.

Mahmod Salem Yussef said armed Indonesian police helped ferry passengers onto the Siev-X at Cipanas in Indonesia in October 2001.

Yussef, a former Iraqi soldier now living in Brisbane, was asked if he was certain the men were police.

Yussef said he had spoken to them and they wore uniforms and carried firearms.

The hearing before Magistrate Barbara Tynan is continuing.


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