Qantas has been labelled a ‘national disgrace’ after cancelling a flight that ruined the reunion of two asylum seekers who were separated nine years ago.
Betelhem and Ismail were fleeing war-torn Ethiopia and Somalia when they met and became friends on a boat bound for Australia in 2013.
Once their boat reached Australia, the pair were separated at the country’s two offshore immigration detention centres – Betelhem was sent to Nauru while Ismail was detained on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea.
Betelhem (left) and Ismail’s (right) emotional reunion was ruined when Qantas cancelled their flight. The pair first met on a boat in 2013 but were sent to separate offshore detention centres
On Tuesday, Betelhem and Ismail were scheduled to meet on a flight from Melbourne to Canberra but their emotional reunion was ruined after Qantas cancelled and put them on separate flights to the nation’s capital.
The pair were part of Asylum Seeker Resource Centre’s (ASRC) lobbyist group meeting in Canberra to discuss legislation which was introduced in parliament to end offshore detention centres.
ASRC founder and CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis told Daily Mail Australia the cancelled flight was ‘absolutely devastating’ as it meant Betelhem and Ismail missed important talks with key MPs and senators.
‘Betelhem and Ismail bravely came to Canberra on behalf of asylum seekers and refugees,’ Mr Karapanagiotidis said.
‘They have been waiting nine years for this day – to see each other again and to talk to parliament and be heard.
‘It was absolutely devastating because it was such an important day for them. It was their first chance to speak to the government and now they feel like they’ve let us down and have let down the refugees still in detention.’
Betelhem was sent to Nauru while Ismail was sent to Manus Island (pictured). The pair travelled to Canberra as part of a group campaigning for the end of detention centres
Mr Karapanagiotidis said the independent not-for-profit organisation paid ‘top-dollar’ for ‘bottom-of-the-line service’ and blamed Qanats for not fulfilling its role as the nation’s largest airline.
‘The rest of us are used to Qantas letting us down,’ Mr Karapanagiotidis said.
‘Qantas needs to understand that there is a human cost and consequence when it does not fulfill its social contract with the Australian public.
‘It’s an airline about bringing people together so how has our national carrier become our national disgrace?’
It comes after a Qantas computer glitch on Sunday caused hours of delays on a dozen domestic flights and disrupted the travel plans of thousands of passengers.
On Monday as the airline cancelled 15 domestic flights – eight out of Sydney and seven out of Melbourne – due to operational reasons, including resourcing challenges and engineering requirements.
Qantas said Betelhem and Ismail’s flight from Melbourne to Canberra was cancelled due to ‘crew sickness’
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) founder Kon Karapanagiotidis said Qantas was a ‘national disgrace’ and had destroyed a very important day for Betelhem and Ismail (pictured, Mr Karapanagiotidis (R) and ASRC Director of Advocacy and Campaigns Jana Favero (L) on the way to parliament)
Qantas told Daily Mail Australia that Betelhem and Ismail’s 7:05am flight from Melbourne to Canberra was cancelled due to ‘crew sickness’.
‘Due to crew sickness we had to cancel a flight between Melbourne and Canberra this morning,’ Qantas said.
‘All passengers were reaccommodated onto other flights within three hours.’
Betelhem and Ismail were scheduled to arrive in Canberra at 8:30am to start meetings with MPs across the LNP, Greens, ALP and Independents but arrived five hours later.
Ismail missed the meeting with Independent Federal MP Zoe Daniels while Betelhem missed the meeting with Ms Daniels and newly appointed Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Andrew Giles.
Betelhem and Ismail arrived just in time to hear Greens Senator Nick McKim address parliament on the need to evacuate the 216 people being held at Nauru and on Manus island.
‘The people left behind in Papua New Guinea and Nauru need emergency evacuation here to Australia,’ Senator McKim said.
‘They need medical support, they need freedom, they need community support and they need permanent resettlement in a safe place.
Senator McKim called for a Royal Commission into Australia’s detention centre regime.
‘Let’s reveal the horrors of Manus Island and Nauru. The murders, the rapes, the child sex abuse and the deliberate harming of innocent people,’ Senator McKim said.
‘The solution is there for us, let’s take it.’
Betelhem (left) and Ismail (right) met in Canberra five hours after their scheduled arrival – just in time for Greens Senator Nick McKim’s (second from right) address to parliament which demanded the government close detention centres
The Ending Indefinite and Arbitrary Immigration Detention Bill was introduced in parliament on Tuesday which would see an end to indefinite detention of asylum seekers.
The legislation, introduced by Independent MP Andrew Wilkie and seconded by MP Kylea Tink, would mandate timeframes on detention, independent oversight, introduce minimum conditions of detention and make detention a last resort.
Director of Advocacy and Campaigns at ASRC Jane Favero described Australia’s detention system as ‘a labyrinth in the dark’ which needs urgent reform.
‘Our immigration detention system is broken and is in urgent need of reform,’ Ms Favero said.
‘Once someone enters detention, it’s like being forced into a labyrinth in the dark.
‘Families are separated. Refugees are suffering. Years are wasted. Refugees don’t know why they’ve been detained or for how long.
‘It’s time to put humanity into Home Affairs and we urge all Parliamentarians to support this Bill, release refugees and put an end to indefinite and arbitrary detention for good.’
Senator McKim called for a Royal Commission into Australia’s detention centre regime
There are around 1,400 people in immigration detention with 216 at offshore centres.
Detention centre figures revealed 42 complaints of sex sexual assault against detention centre workers, 172 complaints of assault; and over 2,650 actual and threatened instances of self-harm since 2016.
Australia first introduced ‘offshore processing’, in 2001 at Nauru and Manus Island, under the Howard Government’s arrangements referred to as the ‘Pacific Solution’.
Offshore processing was suspended by the new Labor government in 2008 but resumed, also under Labor, in August 2012.
Protests erupted outside Melbourne’s Park Hotel on July 19 asylum seekers brought to Australia for medical care were removed
The group of 17 men were brought over through laws allowing doctors to treat sick asylum seekers in Australia
On July 19, hundreds of refugee advocates took to the streets outside Melbourne’s Park Hotel – a private hotel the federal government calls APODS, or alternative places – to protest the detainment of a group of asylum seekers.
A group of 17 men were brought from an offshore detention centre for medical care and after spending more than a year in a detention at a Brisbane hotel were abruptly moved to the Park Hotel.
The Refugee Action Coalition organised the protest to advocate for the release of people in detention who are in need of medical care.