But first to a village in northern Lebanon in deep shock as the residents struggle with an appalling tragedy. 18 men, women and children from the village, perished in the most recent asylum seeker boat sinking off Indonesia last Friday that claimed at least 39 lives. Yaara Bou Melhem reports that the locals are consumed with grief and anger at Australia.
REPORTER: Yaara Bou Melhem
High in the hills of northern Lebanon these banners speak of tragedy and rage. Today in the village of Qabeit a grim gathering is under way. The mass drowning of 18 people from here has stunned this small community. They have come to grieve and vent their anger. The relatives of the dead, on the left here, greet their neighbours. As the event is beamed live across Lebanon, officials speak of poverty forcing people to seek a better life. But the local sheik Ali Khoder takes direct aim at Australia.
SHEIK ALI KHODER (Translation): Yes, 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?
After the gathering, I visit a family still reeling from news of the tragedy. Naser Khoder’s brother, Hussein was on the boat when it went down. He lost his wife and eight children.
NASER KHODER (Translation): This is Hussein’s photo, the father. This is the mother. And this is the mother’s photo. And this is Reem, their eldest child.
REPORTER (Translation): How old was she?
NASER KHODER (Translation): 19. And this is Wafaa. The one after her. 17. This is Ali. Alouchi, the pampered one. 15. This is Rawaa. She’s 13. And this is Ahmed, Ahmouda. 12. He’s pampered. And this is Rana. She is seven years old. And this is Malak, my daughter’s school friend. She’s four. And this is Mariam, his youngest. She is one and a half. God rest her soul. Thank you. A family, an army.
Hussein texted many pictures home to his family...Life in Indonesia…The children…This remarkable photo of the boat soon after it left. And the women and children huddled together during the night. The family has a video that shows Hussein after he survived the sinking.
MAN: His family, ten persons... He has eight children. Nine children... They all died. Why? Just tell us why they didn’t rescue us.
Nasser says poverty forced his brother to look to Australia, they sold possessions and borrowed money to pay a people smuggler eighty thousand dollars in the pursuit of a better life.
NASER KHODER (Translation): He took his family. All of us were crying. We cried over the children, not over him. He left.
Naser says he repeatedly told Hussein not to risk the dangerous boat journey.
NASER KHODER (Translation): His father came too. He said “Son, if you want to go, leave your children with me and I will raise them for you. He said “We’ll all go. Either we all die, or we all live.”
REPORTER (Translation): He said this?
NASER KHODER (Translation): He did, word for word. “Either we all die, or we all live.” We told him it was “a journey of death”. “If we’re meant to die, we’ll die together. They won’t mourn me and I won’t mourn them.”
Nasser and his father take me into the house where the family once lived. Then, I’m shown the crib where the youngest used to sleep before the family left for their fateful voyage, they made it themselves because they didn’t have enough money to buy a cot.
ANJALI RAO: And Yaara tell us that the Lebanese prime minister is sending a delegation from the village to Indonesia tonight with DNA to identify some of the bodies and bring back the survivors. That story has already prompted a strong response online today. Have your say on sbs.com.au/dateline.
YAARA BOU MELHEM
Original Music Composed by VICKI HANSEN
1st October 2013