Headlines

Boat people stranded at
the Sarah Hotel

Ahmad Hadad, 21, looking exasperated, was pacing back and forth in the lobby of the Sarah Hotel in Sukabumi, West Java, when The Jakarta Post met him on Wednesday.

Along with 27 others, Ahmad, who first introduced himself as Kiko, is temporarily staying at the hotel under the auspices of the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

Kiko and other migrants from Eritrea, Iraq, Lebanon and Jordan had attempted an illegal crossing to Australia’s Christmas Islands.

They were assisted by Palestinians, Iraqis and Indonesians believed to be part of a human trafficking ring. Their journey, however, failed, as their boat capsized on Friday after five days at sea. The boat sank in the waters off Agrabinta in neighboring Cianjur regency.

As of Wednesday, Search and Rescue (SAR) workers had found 70 people, only 28 of which were still alive.

Kiko wants to immediately return to his hometown in Tripoli, Lebanon. He said living an unemployed life at home had been much more comfortable than living in Indonesia. He had been fired from his old job as a driver due to war. “I want to see my family, parents and my friends,” he said in broken English.

Conflict conditions at home drove Kiko to seek passage to Australia. He contacted Abu Ali, a Palestinian living in Tripoli. Abu Ali came recommended by one of Kiko’s friends, who was already in Australia.

“I paid for one person, US$10,000 in Lebanon,” said Kiko, who got the money from his oldest brother, a Lebanese soldier.

Communication with Abu Ali was conducted discreetly and Kiko only met him after his tourist visa to Indonesia had been issued. Kiko arrived at the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in June where he was picked up.

Kiko kept moving, from one hotel, to another, to a villa to somewhere else.

“They change the people. Iran, Iraq, Lebanon [all in one place]. He [Abu Ali] told me in Lebanon two days and go [to Australia]. He’s lying, big liars. Three months [in Indonesia] and go,” said Kiko, who has a sister working as a lecturer in Canberra.

As he headed toward the boat on Sept. 23, Kiko saw no familiar faces.

He and other asylum seekers had been brought from Jakarta by someone known as Abu Saleh.

“Abu Saleh is a big boss in Indonesia. He found the boat. He is Iraqi, stays in Jakarta. I can’t open the window, don’t talk, I can’t smoke, just keep silent,” he said, describing the condition in the car that took them to the beach.

Upon arrival, Kiko said he only saw a dilapidated boat. “No life jacket, no food. I know it’s a bad boat, because my house in Lebanon [is] near the beach, so I know if this boat is good or bad. I see it’s bad,” he said.

He said there were at least 72 people on board, including five to seven women and 20 children, of which three were still babies.

When the Post visited the hotel, there were a total of 28 immigrants, including two women and two kids.

“Seventy-two [people] in the boat, one man from Indonesia said that 72 would go, the driver of the boat saying that,” Kiko said on how he knew how many passengers there were.

He said he was only given one 600-milliliter bottle of water during the five-day ordeal.

As the boat was sinking, Kiko said he saw land in front of him and swam toward it.

Meanwhile, the supervision and enforcement section head at the Sukabumi Immigration Office, Markus Lenggong Rindingpadang, said that the immigrants had been temporarily placed in the hotel as they awaited the necessary documents for being deported to their home countries.

Of the 28 surviving immigrants, 18 were Lebanese, five Iraqi, three Eritrean, one Jordanian and one from Iran.

“Four Iraqis have agreed to be deported while another still wants to apply for asylum,” he said.

The immigration office could not process the papers for the Eritreans, as Eritrea does not have an embassy in Jakarta.

Markus said the Jordanian and Iranian embassies had yet to contact the immigration authorities, although they were sent letters.

“The Lebanese embassy has been the most active in taking care of its citizens,” said Markus.

He added that the Lebanese and Iraqis who had agreed to be deported would be transferred to the Belawan Immigration Detention Center in Medan, North Sumatra.

“The Belawan Immigration Detention Center has agreed and has the capacity to take them,” he said.

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