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I was there the last time Australian politics encouraged people smuggling. Let's not do it again

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15.02.2019

The first time I saw the anguish caused by the people smuggling trade, I was the freshly minted Indonesia correspondent for The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

It was August, 2012, and a rescue boat was returning to the Indonesian port of Merak with its cargo of traumatised asylum seekers whose own boat had sunk.

On the deck, stunned, sat 10-year-old Omid Jafary.

Omid Jafary, 10, who lost his father, uncle and cousin on an asylum boat that sank off the Indonesian coast in 2012.Credit:Michael Bachelard

He had been a passenger, with his family, on the boat of about 170. His father did not have a life jacket and Omid's own was faulty. It filled with water and began dragging him under. He was small enough to cling to an inner tube brought by another man. His father could not.

''He saw his uncle, father and cousin just drown. They were right in front of him," Omid told me later, through another relative.

In November that year I met the miracle survivor of another sinking. Habib Ullah set off with 33 shipmates to Christmas Island, but the boat quickly foundered, then sank.

"On the first day [in the water] there was hope. Everyone was optimistic,'' he told me. "On the second day, some people, they lost control, shouting and crying ... I would see dead bodies coming from the right side, left side".

Habib Ullah, the sole survivor of his boat of 33, on the vessel that rescued him.

On the morning of the third day, only three remained, clinging to a rope. One was so desperate he was "trying to drown because he was very thirsty and he was very hungry. So he drowned before my eyes".

Then Habib was the only one left.

All these things we documented, but still the boats came. Asylum seekers........

© Canberra Times