This is a special commentary from reader ‘pungentpeppers’ who has become a much-appreciated unofficial reporter and investigator here at RRW. Emphasis is mine.
The doomed boat (photo texted from a cell phone).
A LEBANESE TRAGEDY
You may have heard the terrible news last week about the ill-fated group of mostly Lebanese migrants who had dreams of living in Australia. They included 68 Lebanese citizens, of whom 40 perished. Many of them were children who drowned when their boat crashed and broke up in rough waters 50 meters off the Indonesian coast. It was an ill-conceived voyage from the start.
These Lebanese, who were dissatisfied with their lives in Lebanon, believed they could do better. So they listened to the sales pitches of unscrupulous smugglers. People smugglers, who work in the lucrative trade of transporting human souls, persuaded their Lebanese victims that they would be transported safely and would receive residency in Australia. Some Lebanese from their region had previously succeeded in such a venture. But the smugglers neglected to mention that the Australian Government had changed its policies and would no longer grant asylum to any person who comes to Australia illegally by boat.
There were warnings. One man, Ali Taleb, who had already settled in Australia and was living in Melbourne, told his brother, “If you come with them I will never talk to you till the end of time.” Perhaps because of that threat his brother is alive today. Another family, that of survivor Hussein Khoder, urged the father to make the voyage alone, and leave his eight children in Lebanon – their grandfather offered to take care of them. His brother said, “There’s a 90 percent chance you will die.” But Hussein Khoder answered, “Either we all die, or we all live”, and chose to go ahead. Call it hubris, call it irrational expectations, or call it entitlement or greed, or perhaps it was the false belief that the involvement of children would force the Australian Government’s hand – whatever was in his mind, the man decided to spend the $80,000 the smugglers demanded, and set out with his wife and children for Indonesia, along with the other doomed travelers.
The plan for these Lebanese was to pose as Syrian war refugees, fly to Indonesia, get on a boat, and then call Australian rescue who would come, like a taxi service, and pick them up and carry them to Australia. The migrants destroyed their Lebanese documents, grabbed their fake Syrian passports and took off from Indonesia in a rickety wooden boat. One of the men texted home to Lebanon a picture of them sitting on that boat. [*photograph link below* use as illustration*] The small craft traveled some distance, but was still within the range of cell phone service, so it could not have wandered far offshore. At that point, according to one of the survivors, Abdullah Al-Qisi, they called the Australian Government for help, even though they were still close to the Indonesian shoreline. “We called the Australian Government for 24 hours, they were telling us ‘we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming,’ and they didn’t come,” said Al-Qisi to TV reporters. “We sent them the position on the GPS, exactly where we are, and we drowned and nobody came. This is because of the Australian Government. I want them to know that.” “And we wait two hours. We wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them: ‘We don’t have food, we don’t have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us.’ And nobody come. Sixty person dead now because of Australian government.’’ He further alleged that he lost his whole family because Australians did not come when they phoned in the rescue the day before the sinking.
Here’s where accounts differ: The asylum seekers’ story was that they called on Thursday. However, a statement from the Australian immigration minister’s office states that the first time the Australians heard about the boat was from a call on Friday morning. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority coordinated the initial rescue effort and notified the Indonesian search and rescue agency, since the boat was in Indonesian waters. A merchant vessel responded, as well as an Australian Border Protection Command aircraft, but neither could locate the vessel.
But why did the boat migrants need help? The survivors said their two motors had stopped working. So they called Australia and waited for their Australian rescuers to arrive. While they waited, their stocks of food and water diminished and the seas grew rougher. The motor that pumped water ran out of fuel, and the boat started taking on water. The migrants and the boat’s crew decided they had better turn back towards land. It’s unclear how they managed to return without either “broken” motor working.
Once they were within 50 meters of the Indonesian shore, tragedy struck. The boat crashed in heavy seas and broke into pieces. The men who could swim headed for the shore. As far as I can tell practically all of the women on board perished. One woman, Nazime Bakour, spied the eldest of her three children in the water and grabbed him, saving his life. Most of the men, however, apparently saved only their own skins. Hussein Khoder, the man who had paid $80,000 to the smugglers to take him, his pregnant wife, and eight children on the boat – he was the sole survivor of his family. He swam ashore and left his family behind to drown.
I cannot comprehend how a man who was able to collect $80,000 for such a trip, would not spend some of that sum on life jackets for his children! Saying they are “poor” and have no money is a recurring theme with these migrants. Yet if you saw the conditions in which they were living in Lebanon – their town, their automobiles, their houses, their furniture – and their ability to come up with thousands upon thousands of dollars to pay the smugglers – you realize they have a rather strange notion of poverty.
After the disaster, the survivors appeared on television, very emotional. Abdullah Al-Qisi mentioned previously, who spoke excellent English, complained and blamed the Australians. He said he called the Australians many times on his iPhone! Did he ever think to use his iPhone to look at the map and check the distance to Australia? Did he not realize that maybe he should call Indonesia and not Australia, especially since they were barely offshore?! Al-Qisi and the others spoke of the lost women and children. How precious and beloved these women and children must have been that the men did not strive to save them? Left them in the water? Did not give them life jackets? Put them on a rickety boat? Indeed, they seem not to have been very concerned about those “women and children”!
An Australian television program, SBS Dateline, aired a 6-minute special about the reaction in Lebanon to the deaths. The video shows Qabeit, the village where many of the victims came from. Overhead hangs a black banner describing those who perished as “martyrs*** in search of a dignified life”. It’s a nice village, surrounded by orchards and mountains. People have cars and trucks, not donkeys. Homes, not shacks. Furniture, not mats on the floor. Curtains on the windows. People who looked well fed. Do they even know what “poor” means? Yet, in the film they say the family that spent $80,000 could not “afford” to buy their baby a bed. The relatives of the dead children brought out their photographs, and called them “an army” – because of how many they were. One by one, they reverentially laid out each photograph on a table. They showed the girls. They showed the boys. As the pictures of the two lost boys were placed on the table, their uncle called each one by his nickname and said he was “mudallal” – “pampered”. Yes, the boys were pampered and spoiled. And as spoiled boys become men – they become willing to risk their women and children’s lives and leave them in the ocean to drown.
The cleric of the village, Sheik Ali Khoder, yelled in anger in Arabic, “Listen, Australia. The boat sought help and rescue and the coastguard kicked the boat out and told the boat “Go back to where you came from.” Shame on you. Shame on you. Ask for the meaning of these words. Australia, shame on you. Australia, which has been the land of dreams, freedom, humanity and justice for so long. Shame on you, that your new rulers have reached the stage of killing people and making this part of their election campaign. Is there a court of justice to try you, Australia?” Yes, the speechmaker was indignant and angry and put on a big show. Lebanon is all about appearances. It doesn’t matter that the ship fell apart but 50 meters from Indonesia’s shore. It does not matter that the migrants were neither kicked out, nor were they told to go back. The evil Australians are to blame! They must be made to feel guilt! They must mend their ways! The world must condemn them! Lebanon is all about showing bravado, and anger, and strength. That’s how their society works. The truth is twisted. The weak are abused. The kind are taken advantage of. And humanity is viewed as a weakness to be exploited.
Editor: Cynic that I have become wonders if this was a plan to test the new Australian government hoping to force them to rescue yet another boat carrying illegal Muslim migrants and it went very wrong.
***Why “martyrs” were these Jihadists?
‘Pungentpeppers” has included these links for your further information. Photo is here.
Dateline is here. Opinion piece at the Herald-Sun. Lebanese village in shock, here. Survivors will return to Lebanon, here.
40 drowned or are missing, here. Survivors blame Australia, here. Asylum seeker recalls horror, here.