In the first week of October 2009, a tired, rotting boat chugged into the ocean along the south of Indonesia, heading for a piece of Australian soil. It was heavily laden with Hazara families; 105 people leaving unspeakable things behind them.
Nekbakht and her two boys, Reza (10) and Abbas (7) were among them. Five years previously, Nekbakhts husband had been killed by Taliban, along with their three daughters and two sons. Reza and Abbas were all that were left in Nekbakhts universe. She sold everything she had and fled Afghanistan in pursuit of a future for her sons. When I met her, Nekbakhts exhaustion and despair were etched unmistakably on her face.
Jaffar, 17 years old, travelled with his brother Mukhtar (13) to Indonesia without their parents. They had only each other. They asked me – quietly, unobtrusively – to help them come to Australia. I told them that despite being sick with frustration and powerlessness, there was nothing I could do to help them.
Golafroz, 45 years old, lost her husband and two sons to the Taliban. She fled Afghanistan, and spent four months in an Indonesian prison with her only remaining son, Sajjad (17). When I met her, she clutched me, kissed my hands, wept into my shoulder and begged for my help, and Gods. She pleaded with me to find a way for her to reach Australia. In the course of one of the hardest conversations of my life, I told a sobbing widow there was nothing I could do to help her.
That boat – and its passengers – never reached land. Reports suggest* that Australian officials received terrified calls of distress as the boat disintegrated in a dark ocean. I have since received calls from families in Australia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran, desperately seeking information about their missing loved ones, and begging me to dispel their worst fears. I clearly cannot.
Nekbakht and her boys, the young brothers Jaffar and Mukhtar, and Golafroz and her son Sajjad perished in their pursuit of freedom. These were people so vulnerable, so haunted, so desperate to find safety that they were willing to die trying.
That truth – and the echoed pleas of these women and their sons – should pierce the minds of our policy makers, and should inform every last minute detail of Australias approach to asylum seekers.
LEST WE FORGET.
4 October 2010