Undercover journalists account of asylum seeker journey to Australia

asylum-seekers    An undercover journalist has detailed how he and a photographer posed as asylum seekers and took an epic journey from Afghanistan’s shady currency markets to Jakarta and on to a flimsy, open-decked wooden boat that delivered 57 desperate people to Christmas Island.

In a 10,000-word report in The New York Times Magazine, American writer Luke Mogelson and Dutch photographer Joel van Houdt give the first account of what boat people go through to reach Australia.

Mogelson describes how the asylum seekers, even after being told of the new policy, refused to believe that Australia would really turn them away. It was “a political game” and “a lie to scare people”, they insisted.

So, after a brutally long wait in Jakarta, they would board the dangerous boat for a journey on which more than 1000 people are believed to have drowned in the past decade. The deck of this 30-foot boat – with no cabin, bridge, bulkheads of benches – would become “a claustrophobic scrum of tangled limbs”. In big seas, the passengers endured sleep deprivation, dehydration, seasickness and filth.
But his and van Houdt’s journey began in Afghanistan, where Mogelson lives. No people smugglers would agree to take journalists, so they masqueraded as asylum seekers.

Almost all of them became sick in the rolling seas. The first to be sick was man who, nevertheless, began to sing. “Others joined in, breaking now and then to retch.” The boat plodded at five or six knots. The sight of leaping dolphins cheered the weary passengers.

But in searing heat, the pregnant woman’s condition “bordered on critical”. They huddled under a tarp but then struggled to breathe in the “rank and humid air”.

They reached Australian waters and Australian officials boarded. They made it to Christmas Island.

But not for long. This was where Mogelson and van Houdt would stop sharing the experience of the boat people. The undercover team now told the authorities they were journalists. They were delivered to a luxury hotel while their fellow travellers would soon board flights for PNG or Nauru.

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