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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Relatives seek news of Hazaras missing at sea

BY: NICOLAS PERPITCH AND PETER ALFORD
From: The Australian
April 18, 2013 12:00AM



Missing asylum-seeker Zahir Yusufi, second right Source: The Australian


HAZARA communities across the world are desperately seeking news about relatives who may have been aboard an asylum boat that sank in the Sunda Strait last week following the failure of Indonesian authorities to carry out a search.

More than a week after the sinking, Basarnas, the Indonesian search and rescue agency, has still not carried out a sea or air search for about 60 people still missing.

The accident is now believed to have happened in the southeast reaches of the Sunda Strait in the early hours of Wednesday last week; a report of a suspected sinking in the same area on Friday morning is now thought to have arisen out of confusion surrounding the first incident.

There were about 72 passengers on the Wednesday boat, all believed to be ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Fourteen are now known to have survived the sinking and to have been picked up by local fishermen off the West Java coast.

Immigration officials at Pelabuhan Ratu have confirmed that late on Thursday police handed them the 14 survivors but the men escaped before they could be questioned.

Hazaras from at least five countries are searching for news about missing relatives. Refugee advocates say that in the absence of any help from officials, a Facebook page is serving as a sort of "clearing house" for families.

Yesterday, the page displayed 14 names, purportedly of those rescued after the small fishing boat they were in rapidly took on water. Some clung to pieces of wreckage for 24 hours before being picked up by the local fisherman. There are also photographs identifying those who have not been found yet.

Among them is Rahmatullah Mohammad Jan, a 17-year-old boy who is believed to have boarded the boat hoping his family would follow to escape the Taliban.

According to family friend Mehdi Sabir, who lives in Padua, Italy, the teenager had left Pakistan, where his parents, two sisters and brother now live, only two weeks ago.

The family were refugees who originally came from the Afghan city of Ghazni.

"They said on Wednesday Rahmatullah called them that they are on the way to Australia in an hour. That was the last time Rahmatullah contacted his family. After that his family did not get nothing, no good news. He is missing like this," Mr Sabir told The Australian.

Another photo shows Mohammad Dawood, aged in his 40s, and Mohammad Asif, 15.

Habib Akbari, from Brisbane, said he knew them from Pakistan and their families had asked him to help find them.

"Their family says they were on that boat," Mr Akbari said.

Perth man Daniel Rezaie said he was receiving lots of calls from fellow Hazaras worried that people they knew may have been on the boat.

"They are really distressed about those people," Mr Rezaie said. "Some are calling, saying, 'I'm not sure if my friend was on that boat or not'."

The Australian understands the national police have contacted at least one of the survivors since, but he was unable to give any information useful to searchers.

Basarnas officials say they have located no other survivors or bodies.

Basarnas did not respond to telephone calls from The Australian yesterday.

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