Michael Bachelard, West Java June 30, 2012
Asylum seekers including Hameed Ullah (far left) and Imayat Ali (second from left) wait for an Australia-bound boat in Cisarua, West Java.
ASYLUM seekers are paying people smugglers much higher rates to travel to Australia as they rush to make it while the ''good'' Gillard government clings to power.
Some of the thousands of asylum seekers waiting in Cisarua for a boat to Christmas Island told The Saturday Age yesterday that they regarded Julia Gillard as ''good'' for them but feared she would lose power shortly.
Hameed Ullah, 21, an ethnic Hazara asylum seeker who has been waiting in Cisarua for about four months, said asylum seekers followed the political news in Australia.
''They know now the condition, they read [about] the election. Australia is near to change the prime minister,'' Ullah said.
''We think if they are to change we will be here a long time. Julia Gillard is good for refugee people. If they change, maybe it's bad for us because maybe we can't arrive in Australia.''
People smugglers have been taking advantage of the fatal sinking of two recent boats to increase the price they charge their customers.
But asylum seekers say Australia's political ructions on the issue are also pushing up the price as thousands compete to get to Australia before the election of an Abbott government.
It comes as two boats arrived at Christmas Island yesterday carrying more than 140 asylum seekers. This follows the rescue of about 110 survivors and the search for another 90 believed drowned between Indonesia and Christmas Island late last week, and another rescue far out to sea in which four people are believed to have died on Tuesday.
Ullah said prices to travel to Australia were being driven higher and he had received a call from his ''agent'' three days ago.
''He said, 'The sea is crazy … If you want to go with me, now the rate is $US8200. Pay in Pakistan, I send you.''' Two months ago the price was between $US4000 and $US6000.
The extra charge was to buy ''stronger boats'' in the wake of the recent drownings.
These refugees do not know the real names of the people smugglers, and after paying their fee, they simply wait until they receive a phone call saying the boat is ready. They get the choice to board or not to board once they see the vessel.
Ullah was a student in Afghanistan before his father was killed by the Taliban. He took his family's life savings to come to Cisarua, two hours from Jakarta, where he lives with 20 to 30 other asylum seekers. All are waiting with increasing urgency for a boat to a country they believe should welcome them.
Another Hazara man waiting here, Imayat Ali, 55, said the danger would not stop them because they were fleeing far worse in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
''We are risking our life to go to Australia even [though] the current is too high, the boats are not too strong. But still people want to go … Far better to die in the sea on the way to Australia than with the Taliban in Afghanistan, because there is hope.''
But they say Ali's nephew was saved by Australian rescuers from the ship that sank, with the loss of 90 or more lives, last week. In a brief phone call from Christmas Island he had told his uncle: ''Don't come with such a person who you don't believe, and bring with you a tyre tube with air in it. The sea is very high.''
Ali did not know specifically about the government's ''Malaysia solution'', but he did know about Malaysia from family members who are there.
''We cannot go to Malaysia … what a place their jails are! Un-human treatment … It is not a solution to send us to Malaysia. We only want to be in Australia.''
Ali alluded to the speech this week of Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young during the asylum seeker debate.
''I heard a woman saying in the Parliament … in Australia she has been weeping, crying for our life. So it is their sympathy which will catch us towards Australia, because at least they are human beings.''
Ali said people here were grateful to the people smugglers. ''They relieve us … We are yearning for the service they render to us.''
He also has a touching faith in the goodwill of the Australian people.
''Australia is a huge country. There is very much room for everyone … We want to just share with the Australian people the rights they are having there. Please don't change your law.''
With TONY WRIGHT