Hundreds of asylum-seekers lose their lives each year on the dangerous journey, many of them women and children. In December, an overloaded vessel, carrying some 250 mostly Iranian and Afghan asylum-seekers, sank off Indonesia’s eastern Java island, killing all but 47 on board.
But for 41-year-old Abdellatif, who faces possible extradition and a 15-year prison sentence of hard labour in Egypt for his religious affiliations, the risk is worth it. He now plans to pay people smugglers up to US$17,000 to move his family to Australia. IRIN met Abdellatif outside the Indonesian town of Bogor, now a hub for asylum-seekers in the country, on the eve of his trip.
“It’s been almost 20 years that I have been on the run and I can’t take it any more. I’ve given up hope. Egypt is supposed to be a Muslim country, but in reality it isn’t. Those who follow their beliefs openly face the risk of arrest and detention. I myself was arrested three times. Thousands of people face similar persecution, which is why I fled.
“Since leaving Egypt, I have taken my family from Albania to the UK and then onward to Iran. For years I languished in an Iraqi refugee camp there – pretending to be Palestinian lest I be found out and returned to Egypt. Later we travelled to Malaysia via India on fake passports and onward to Indonesia; again illegally. Throughout this journey, I faced repeated arrest and detention, as have members of my family.
“I arrived in Malaysia from Iran in 2010 before making my way to Indonesia in the hopes of taking my family to the UK. After boarding the plane in Jakarta, we were again arrested in Singapore and sent back to Indonesia on 3 June 2010. I applied for refugee status on 30 August 2010, but almost two years on have no idea what is happening with my case.
“As a result, I have no choice but to make my way to Australia on my own. I cannot return to Egypt and I can’t stay here. I lost 20 years of my life looking for a safe place for myself and my family. Now I need to risk it all, including the life of my one-year-old son who was born here.
“Everyone tells me it’s dangerous and yes, the risks are high, but I have to do it. We will sell everything we have to make this happen, including my wife’s gold, to make what I’m told is a three-day journey to Australia. Generally people smugglers charge $6,000 per person, but they charge less for young children.
“I know there is no guarantee I will make it. I also know I am putting the lives of my children at risk, but I’m ready to die at sea.
“If I go by boat, at least I have a hope of reaching Australia. If I stay here, I have nothing.”
According to the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, there are more than 4,000 asylum-seekers and recognized refugees in Indonesia today