Australia 'helped send refugees to their death at sea'

David Fickling in Sydney
Wednesday April 7, 2004
The Guardian (UK)

More than 350 refugees who were drowned in one of the worst maritime disasters of recent years were put on their boat by Indonesian police officers acting in cooperation with the Australian police, it was alleged in a Brisbane court yesterday.

The allegation increases the pressure on the Australian government, which has denied any responsibility for the deaths of 353 men, women and children when their wooden fishing boat sank in heavy seas 70 miles south of Java in October 2001.

Australian federal police (AFP) officers in Jakarta have admitted that they were sponsoring the Indonesian police to disrupt people-smuggling operations at the time, but deny any connection with the sinking of the boat, which the Australian authorities codenamed Siev-X.

Mahmod Salem Yussef, a former Iraqi soldier who left the boat before it sailed, told the court that the Indonesian police had helped put passengers on to the Siev-X, and had been present at an earlier staging post in their journey.

Australian refugee campaigners allege that the boat was deliberately overloaded or sabotaged by Indonesians working on the AFP disruption programme, making Australia partially responsible.

"When the AFP trained the Indonesian police in disruption, we were getting them to act as our mercenaries," said Tony Kevin, a former Australian ambassador who has campaigned for a judicial inquiry into the Siev-X.

"These guys drew their own conclusions about what was to be done. It's a win-win situation for everybody except the dead asylum seekers."

Kevin Enniss, an Australian used as a people-smuggling informant by the AFP, boasted on Australian television in 2002 that he had arranged for boats from Indonesia to be scuttled close to shore as a way of putting off attempts to enter Australia.

The AFP commissioner, Mick Keelty, told a senate inquiry that he had no knowledge of such activities, but admitted that he had no way of knowing what the Indonesian police were doing.

A police statement to the court said that the passengers had paid up to the equivalent of 540 for their passage, using whatever they could afford, from bracelets and Kuwaiti gold to mobile telephones.

Forty-five people survived the sinking and 20 hours in the sea before being picked up by Indonesian fishing boats.

"One passenger saw a lady in the water who had given birth," the statement said. "The lady and baby both perished, with the umbilical cord still joining the two. One passenger survived in the water by holding on to a floating body."

Khaleed Daoed, 37, an Iraqi goldsmith, is charged on 12 counts with people smuggling for his alleged involvement in the syndicate which organised the Siev-X voyage. The trial continues.


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