Undercover journalists have published a first hand account of the epic asylum seeker journey from Indonesia to Christmas Island.
The two New York Times Magazine journalists paid $4000 each for a harrowing open-decked wooden boat voyage that delivered 57 desperate people to Christmas Island.
The boat of mainly Iranian asylum seekers arrived on the day after the Abbott government was elected and given the now bipartisan determination that boat people never be settled here were dispatched to either Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
Luke Mogelson lives in Afghanistan and he and his photographer, Dutch photojournalist Joel van Houdt were at sea for three days. They posed as Georgian refugees, named Levan” and “Mikheil” with sensitive information about the government’s activities during the 2008 war.
After flying to Jakarta, they were taken to the 23rd storey of a tower bock on the northern edge of the city. About 30 more asylum seekers lived in these flats. Most were Iranians.
“They were builders, drivers, shopkeepers, barbers. One man claimed to be a mullah; another, an accomplished engineer. Their reasons for leaving varied. They all complained about the government and its chokehold on their freedoms. A few said they had been targeted for political persecution….They were fathers who despaired of their children’s futures, or they wanted children but refused to have them in Iran. The most common word they used to describe their lives back home was na-aomid — hopeless.”
He writes of how the asylum seekers, after being told of the new bipartisan policy not to settle them in Australia, refused to believe they would be turned away.
“What they had to look forward to instead — after the perilous voyage, and after months, maybe years, locked up in an isolated detention center — was resettlement on the barren carcass of a defunct strip mine, more than 70 percent of which is uninhabitable (Nauru), or resettlement on a destitute and crime-ridden island nation known for its high rates of murder and sexual violence (Papua New Guinea). How do you tell that to someone who has severed himself utterly from his country, in order to reach another? It was impossible. They wouldn’t believe it.”
When after a few false starts they finally boarded the boat would take them to Christmas Island it was nothing more than a 10-metre open decked wooden boat with no cabin, bridge, bulkheads or benches.