Palestinian refugees forced out of Iraq feared lost at sea en route to Australia

Members of the Milhim family who are among those feared lost at sea

More than two dozen Palestinian refugees forced out of Iraq after the US invasion are feared lost at sea, including entire family groups with young children.

They were among dozens of people aboard rickety boats that left Indonesia in late June bound for Australia but have been lost without trace for a month and a half. Australia has denied reports that it holds them in detention.

The Palestinians were among hundreds who had made circuitous journeys over many years from Iraq to Jordan and then to Cyprus where their asylum applications were rejected and they faced harsh conditions.

After reaching Cyprus, some set out for Malaysia, where it is possible under certain conditions for Palestinians to go without visas, and then onwards to Indonesia where people smugglers are paid to take them to Australia by boat.

Palestinians in Iraq faced violence and persecution after the 2003 US invasion. They were collectively blamed without any evidence for suicide bombings that were part of Iraq’s post-invasion sectarian civil war. Many spent years stranded at the Iraq-Jordan border.

Australia: “very grave fears” for missing refugees

Some of those attempting to reach Australia already have relatives living there. Those relatives had been told by the smugglers that their relatives had reached Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, and were in Australian detention, according to Australian ABC TV’s Lateline.

On Tuesday, however, Australian authorities said said none of those aboard the boats had reached Australia.

“There is no evidence that those people have arrived in Australia,” Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told reporters, “So we now have very grave fears for the safety of those people.”

The Electronic Intifada spoke to Omar Shoeib, the brother of Amira Shaaban Shoeib, 32, who is among the missing along with her husband and four children. Omar said he had spoken to his sister on 28 June when she was in Indonesia, preparing to depart, and had heard nothing from her since then.

Plight of missing refugees ignored

Palestinian filmmaker and human rights advocate Osama Qashoo, who has spent time in Cyprus and knows many of the families personally, wrote about the plight of the refugees there and those missing at sea in a recent piece published by Ma’an News Agency:

On June 21, 27 and 29, three asylum seeker vessels heading from the port of Pelabuhan Ratu on the south-eastern coast of Java, a popular embarkation point for Australia’s coast, disappeared. The boats were overladen with men, women and children desperately seeking a new life when they sank.

Such tragedies are all too common in the world of people smuggling. But this horror has an extra dimension to it, as the majority of the missing passengers were Palestinian refugees. This has led to a cruel fiasco of disinterest from all the regional authorities, who, even 30 days after the disappearance have failed to send out any search party for the missing. The trail of disinterest spreads from the Australian government right the way to the Palestinian Authority itself.

Whilst other families of the missing have received some contact and support from the authorities, the Palestinian families, in Iraqi refugee camps, are still left without news of their relatives. Some 28 Palestinians were in the boats believed to have sunk between Indonesia and Australia.

For an entire month now, families of the Palestinian refugees from Iraq have been waiting for news of their family members still missing at sea. Their story is the tragedy of the ongoing Palestinian refuge issue itself. The grandparents of those missing were forced to flee their homes in the cities of Acre and Haifa in 1948 after the creation of Israel. After years of hardships, roaming from refugee camp to refugee camp in the Middle East, these families arrived, penniless and stateless, in Iraq.

Names and photos of the missing

Qashoo provided The Electronic Intifada with the names and pictures of some of the missing, which he obtained from relatives.

Bilal Muhammad al-As’ad

  • Bilal Muhammad Tawfiq As’ad, age 37
    Married with three children. Wife and children are in Cyprus.
  • Muthaffar Othman Abd al-Hafeeth, age 41
    Married with three children. Wife and children are in Cyprus.
  • Abid Ibrahim Ahmad Milhim, age 33
    Married with two children. Wife and children are in Cyprus.

Muthaffar Othman Abd al-Hafeeth

Family of Rawhi Sabri al-Hamadi

Yusra Said Nayif al-Amro

Rawhi Sabri al-Hamadi

Abdulnasir al-Hamadi and his wife Tajali al-Nabulsi

Amer Rawhi Sabri al-Hamadi, age 24. The baby in the picture is unidentified and not known to be among those missing.

  • Rawhi Sabri al-Hamadi, age 60
  • Yusra Said Nayif al-Amro, age 57 (wife of Rawhi)
  • Amer Rawhi Sabri al-Hamadi, age 24
  • Abdulnasir Rawhi Sabri al-Hamadi, age 22
  • Tajali Zuhayr Adil al-Nabulsi, age 22 (wife of Abdulnasir)

Family of Omar Ibrahim Arif al-Milhim

Members of the Milhim family who are among those feared lost at sea

  • Omar Ibrahim Arif al-Milhim, age 35
  • Amira Shaaban Shoeib, age 32 (wife of Omar)
  • Yusra Omar Ibrahim Arif al-Milhim, age 13
  • Ibrahim Omar Ibrahim Arif al-Milhim, age 11
  • Amira Omar Ibrahim Arif al-Milhim, age 4
  • Yaman Omar Ibrahim Arif al-Milhim, age 1

Family of Anan Abd al-Fattah al-As’ad

  • Anan Abd al-Fattah al-As’ad, age 53
  • Alia Adel al-As’ad, age 45 (wife of Anan)
  • Abdallah Anan Abd al-Fattah al-As’ad, age 17
  • Hamam Anan Abd al-Fattah al-As’ad, age 15
  • Harith Anan Abd al-Fattah al-As’ad, age 13




The way Cyprus, Norway and Malaysia treat this group make them so desperate and make the idea of loosing their lives trying to end the limbo situation they live in, seems like a good idea. UNHCR refuse to register any refugees in these countries with exception to Malaysia to relocate them in a third safe country, the world is turning away because the numbers are not big enough, countries like Norway who pay their dues to UN and UNHCR are above criticism, in the middle of all this people die, suffer and no one cares!
About 24 Palestinians Iraqis in Norway are stuck threaten to be returned back to Iraq since it's so safe according to the PLO official who work in the Palestinian embassy in Amman, he claimed Iraq is safer today for Palestinians than it used to be before 2003.
About 2500 refugees in Cyprus including women and children have not got any financial assistance from the government for 4 months now and in some cases longer, they have been kicked out of their houses for not paying rent, and forced to live in hotels where meals are provided but many were forced to leave these hotels after couple of months to end up in the streets.


My god, this is absolutely horrible. So sad.


We are so sad to hear about this. I know how close Palestinian families are
and not even knowing what happened to loved ones is the worst! My heart goes
out to all the families.


This is a tragedy but please do not say that Australia does not care. We are a compassionate people made up of migrants and refugees from all over the world. The trip by sea is very dangerous and our coast is vast. Australia cannot know of or respond to every boat in danger in time to help.


Has there been any more news since writing this? I have a friend whose niece was on this boat and has been asking but I can see nothing new on the subject.


I’m afraid there has been no news or information. I have checked occasionally but there does not seem to be anything.


Thanks. I happened to be in Indonesia this last month and visited Pelabuhan Ratu Bay. Is beautiful spot and took the chance to offer a prayer for the missing.