August 07, 2012
Esmat Adine, a survivor of the December asylum boat disaster near Java, is now living in Auburn, western Sydney, on a permanent protection visa. Picture: James Croucher Source: The Australian
FRANTICALLY trying to swim against waves “like mountains”, 25-year-old Esmat Adine believed he was about to die, his hopes for safety in Australia gone along with the crowded asylum boat that sank off Java in December.
“There was no hope of surviving at that time . . . the waves were like mountains. Children, women and young men, we were seeing them die,” the former US aid agency worker told The Australian.
Incredibly, Mr Adine is now one of almost 2000 asylum seekers living in the community on a bridging visa, having made the decision to try a second time to come to Australia by boat.
Yesterday he recalled that first, horrific failure. With no lifejacket and no debris to cling to, the Hazara Afghan said it was his ability to swim that saved him.
His 18-year-old cousin was not so lucky. Mr Adine saw him die in heavy seas as he tried to help him.
“He was struggling, I tried to get to him to help him, but I couldn’t do anything,” Mr Adine said.
Another cousin and an uncle were among almost 200 asylum-seekers who died in the sinking.
Mr Adine said there were chaotic scenes aboard the vessel when the 250-odd passengers realised they were in trouble 40 nautical miles off Java, about nine hours into their journey to Christmas Island.
“People were crying, some were praying, people were looking for each other, some mothers were looking for their children, some women were crying, where’s my husband?”
As one of 47 survivors detained in Indonesia, Mr Adine then made the extraordinary decision to risk his life again and board a second boat to Australia.
After a perilous journey he arrived at Christmas Island on February 17, the two-month anniversary of the sinking.
After a short time in detention on the island, he was transferred to mainland detention centres and for the past two weeks has been living in Sydney on a bridging visa while hoping his asylum claim will succeed and be processed quickly.
He is one of 1780 asylum seekers on this type of visa, designed to ease numbers in detention.
The visa also gives people working rights and access to the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which is worth about $400 a fortnight.
Mr Adine, who worked with the US Agency for International Development in Kabul, said he could not return to Afghanistan — the Taliban had targeted him because of his work for foreigners.
A boat seemed his only hope of safety. “We were about 70 people in the second boat, I was just looking to others and I was thinking, if the boat sinks, what will happen to these people, to that child or that old man?”
He said he would have had to wait three years to be processed in Indonesia by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
He said his advice to other asylum seekers was not to come to Australia by boat. “I say if you have patience, please stay in Indonesia with the UNHCR. The boat way is very, very dangerous.”
Mr Adine said he was grateful to the Australian government for processing his asylum claim and allowing him into the community.
Conditions in detention at Christmas Island and the mainland were very good, Mr Adine said, and could not be compared with the tough environment of the Indonesian detention centre where he spent more than a month after the sinking.
Mr Adine said he was happy that he was out of detention, but he was upset about the continuing persecution of Hazaras in Afghanistan and Pakistan.