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The counting of the days: endless for Peter Qasim

The forgetting of Peter Qasim

For asylum seeker Peter Qasim, life is a matter of 'year in, year out'.

For many detainees in Baxter their life inside means hell for them, and they talk about 'week in, week out'. But for Peter Qasim life is a matter of 'year in, year out'.

This page lists some recently published press articles about Peter: please read them. We think everyone around Australia should read these.

To help in the campaign to Free Peter Qasim, please read the material, make notes, and make apppointment with your local member of parliament, especially if that member is a Liberal or National MP. The circle of friends around Peter can best be reached via Greg Egan - phone (08) 9344-8609 or by email gregegan(at)

Related pages:

8 March 2005: Life in detention, for seven years - the story of Peter Qasim, Australia's longest-serving detained asylum seeker, continues to make headlines, and some dusty aspects start to unravel. Not even inch by inch, but millimeter by millimeter.

Peter Qasim9 September 2004:  Australia's National Shame: Peter Qasim - Today will see a dismal anniversary marked across Australia, with the passing of six years in detention for a 30-year-old man from Indian Kashmir, Peter Qasim. Peter remains the longest detained asylum seeker in immigration detention, and following the recent Full High Court decision, there are no guarantees that he will not eventually die of old age in the future: he may remain in detention for the rest of his life.

Dick Smith flies to Baxter to visit Peter Qasim

ABC Radio - Australia All Over
Broadcast 27 February 2005

Host: Ian MacNamara (Macca)
Guest: Dick Smith
8am to 9am AEST

MACCA: .... Dick Smith is my guest this morning - good morning Dick.

DICK SMITH: Good Morning!!


MACCA: Now eh ... Dick, you're ehhhh're flying to ehhh, over to South Australia, tell us what that's all about - you're going to Baxter.

DICK SMITH: I'm going to the Baxter detention centre, now I've never been to a detention centre - I'm helping - a chap called Peter Qasim, that's Q-A-S-I-M, Q-A-S-I-M, look it up on the Google, because there's quite a bit about him - the most extraordinary story - young ... guy from India, or from Kashmir, and he managed to get out of India, ehhh, obviously I don't know how, he got a fake passport and he got to Singapore, then he - can you imagine this, at 24 years of age - he stowed away on a boat, and it ended up, I think he might have thought it was coming to Australia, but it ended up in Port Moresby. So they shoved him in jail in Port Moresby for 6 months and then they were gonna deport him, but they didn't have enough money to buy an air ticket - not a lot of money up in New Guinea (chuckles) - so, they - so they let him out, (chuckles) they let him out, and he got helped by lots of good people up there, and he eventually arrived in a small dinghy at Sabai Island - now, that's the island in the Torres Straight that's right up close to Papua New Guinea - so he arrived there, now that was nearly seven years ago ...

MACCA: In a dinghy?

DICK SMITH: In a dinghy. Now the sad thing is, he been in jail ever since, and ...

MACCA: In Australia?

DICK SMITH: - Yep, so from 24 to 30 he's been in jail - but here's the nightmare, and this is why I'm go try and help him - that, after four years in jail he said, look, this is terrible, I left an oppressive country, but here I am back in jail all the time, and so he said, look I want to go back home ....

MACCA: Which is, where?

DICK SMITH: In, in northern India, near Kashmir, near the border - his father was killed - part of the separatist movement, his mother died when he was eight years of age, so he was basically, you know, an orphan, and ... anyway, the Indians now won't accept him, they can't prove where he came from, and the Australian officials are suspicious - but now he's in this situation where recently the High Court said basically he's gonna stay in jail for the rest of his life - now, this is just outrageous, I cannot ...

MACCA: Has he committed, like, is he a person of ehhhh ....

DICK SMITH: No, he's not, no it's not as if - you know, I've spoken to people at Senator Amanda Vanstone's office and I felt ... now look, is there some suspicion that he's tied up with terrorism ... no, nothing like that at all. Never, there's never any suspicion of that - they don't believe where he comes from, but here's the problem. They've gone up into that area in Kashmir, and they've asked people that should have known him at the time, but all those people deny knowing him, now, that could be because they don't know him, but it also could be because he was part of the separatist movement, exactly what he's saying, and they don't want to say anything - and imagine if an official comes from Australia and says, do you know this Peter Qasim, we've got him in jail back in Australia - well, no-one is gonna say they know him - so they're saying they don't know him, so he's in this classic Catch-22 situation where he said, look, I'll go anywhere, just - he is depressed, naturally enough - I mean, imagine loosing the best time of your life ...

MACCA: Hmmmm.

DICK SMITH: And - the reason I'm gonna try and do something ...

MACCA: Yeah, why do you ...

DICK SMITH: Look, I tell you why, because look I can understand, if you go to America without a visa - he came here without a visa - you get put in jail, and you get sent back home, but you don't stay in jail for the rest of your life.

MACCA: Yeah.

DICK SMITH: ... and I just think this is the most terrible situation, so what we gotta try and convince Amanda Vanstone to do is to say, look, if you can't - if India won't accept him and no-one else will accept him, we've gotta let him out - because he's got lots of people who will assist him - Pip and I will assist him - but there's a huge group of Aussies, genuine Aussies all around Australia who spend a tremendous amount of time - he's been working in the ...

MACCA: Yes, what does he do, what's his skills -

DICK SMITH: Well, he really has got, his skills are, he's been working in the eatery, you know, cooking food and everything, so he can cook food - he's an intelligent bloke ... I mean, what an incredible adventurer ... imagine, see ...

MACCA: A bit like Matthew Flinders, isn't it.

DICK SMITH: A bit like that ... at 24 years of age, and he not only gets to Papua New Guinea, because he's got no money, but he then gets in a little boat to Australia - I mean, anywhere else you give him some, you give him an Australian Geographic Award, the Adventurers of the Year, wouldn't you?

MACCA: Hmmm, or the Sixty Minutes fame and his ...

DICK SMITH: That's right, Sixty Minutes - but in this particular case he's ... and I just think it is so terrible that ... OK, I accept this, someone comes here illegally, they get put in jail, fair enough - but what's got to happen is, you spend a bit of time, you find out whether they are a genuine refugee - which they don't consider he is, because they don't believe him - so then you say well, then you gotta go back home. But when India, which we have a good relationship -, won't accept him, and let me just explain, they did a voice test on him, because you know they get experts, and the people who checked his voice out and his accent said, oh yes, he comes from Kashmir, the area he's saying he's from - but the Indians won't accept that. So you now have a situation where he's gonna stay in jail for the rest of his life and that is unacceptable: anyone who is listening should say: unacceptable - and I'm going to -

MACCA: Go on - yes, I wonder how many other people are, that are surviving in our prison system, not so much that, but refu- who ... they don't know where they're born.

DICK SMITH: Very little, believe it or not. This is a very unusual situation, and that's why Senator Amanda Vanstone - look, we should all write to our local member and say, look, we heard Dick Smith talking about this poor bloke, who's in jail for the rest of his life -

MACCA: Qasim, Qasim, is it?

DICK SMITH: Peter Qasim, Q-A-S-I-M, and - fair go, look, he was 24, when he was 24 when he came here, now did he make a mistake coming here, now obviously people would say yes, because you can't come without a visa. But, you can't then put a person in jail for the rest of their life, and the High Court has just said he's going to be in jail for the rest of his life - now, Senator Amanda Vanstone said, she actually said, oh no, these people won't be in jail for the rest of their lives, because I can make a ministerial decision and let them out. Well we got to get her to do that, because it appears - I think the bureaucrats are pretty upset with him - at one stage he managed to escape (chuckles) from Port Hedland for two days, not with any violence or anything, but he just sort-of walked out -

MACCA: Yeah.

DICK SMITH: Well they're not impressed about that; he's- they say he's told them different stories, but people I've spoken to, and I've spoken to Peter on the phone, and he says, well, he is - he knows some English, and he reckons it was mainly misunderstanding - but I must admit if I managed to get to Australia I'd tell every story I could to try to stay here, so that's understandable, but remember now, after four years he said, OK, I've lost, I'm gonna have to get back home - he still thinks he's likely threatened there, but he's agreed to go back home, but now no-one will take him.

MACCA: That's - can't ... isn't there another way that ehhh ... the government can put some pressure on India, surely I mean, surely he's born somewhere there -

DICK SMITH: That's what I reckon, see I just don't want to -

MACCA: Does he want to go home or does he ... ?

DICK SMITH: He does! - He said - what he said two years ago, he said, look, OK, I'm not, I don't want to stay in jail for the rest of my life, I'll go home, and he's cooperated now in every way, signed the forms and everything. But the nightmare is India now won't accept him - now, there's something strange going on, because we have a good relationship with India - the fact that they won't accept him is ridiculous. Now let's say that they think he was part of the separatist movement in Kashmir, well that's a good reason for him not to go home and a good reason for him to stay here.

MACCA: Hmmm. It's a ... it's a ... well, you'd think because a lot of times when people ... ehhh ... when there's a problem in a country and people say oh, bring them here and settle ... I think it's always best to try and get people to remain in their own country -

DICK SMITH: Definitely - oh, definitely, but when you consider this situation, we can't leave him in jail for the rest of his life.

MACCA: You gonna fly over there -

DICK SMITH: I'm flying over on Monday - I hope you're coming with me just to look at the places on the way, and we'll stop at Wentworth and Pooncarry and we're gonna drop down in the little Cessna at the most interesting places, see the most interesting people, probably go and see, ohh Dough Sprigg and Arthur Ruler [.....] but the main reason for the trip is to go and see Peter - and it appears I've got permission to go and see him and talk to him, and just to say, look there's a lot of people who are concerned about what's happened and we're gonna do everything we can to get you out of jail, because, how could you spend 24 to 30 - the best years of your life - in jail, and stay there forever. You see what I'm getting at?

MACCA: I do.

DICK SMITH: It's the forever thing, It's not about going to jail, that's a fact of life everywhere around the world. It's the fact that he can't get out.


From the soundfile at

Dick Smith report-back on Peter Qasim, Eidriss, and the PM

ABC Radio - Australia All Over
Broadcast 6 March 2005

Host: Ian MacNamara (Macca)
Guest: Dick Smith
8am to 9am AEST

MACCA: (taking the phone) G'day, this is Macca ...

DICK SMITH: Hi Macca, this is Dick Smith here.

MACCA: Ahh, how are you Dick?

DICK SMITH: Ah Macca, I'm good, I thought I'd give you a ring and just give you an update, I went and saw Peter Qasim in the jail, at Baxter out near Port Augusta ...

MACCA: Right -

DICK SMITH: ... and I also saw the Prime Minister so I thought I'd give you a bit of an update.

MACCA: Ahh sure, what did he say?

DICK SMITH: Ahh well, the Prime Minister is concerned. He asked me to explain what the jail was like and I said, Well, it's a terrible place. I mean you go in through security barrier after security barrier ... it looks as if everything is electrified, so I'd never seen such a more disspiriting place - and then I met Peter Qasim, who's this young bloke from Kashmir, he's only thirty, he's been now in jail for six years, and he's an incredible person, very impressive - and I explained to the Prime Minister that his difficulty is, that where he comes from in northern Kashmir, is right on the border, and there's no way the authorities can check the information he's given ... so the reason he's been locked up for - what, it's now seven years, is that because they can't confirm what he's telling them is the truth, they've said, ahhh well, there's nothing we can do with you. In fact he's agreed to go back to India, but the Indian government won't accept it, even though the authorities had a voice test done on him, a sort-of a dialect test, that he is one of 200,000 people who speak that Kashmiri language, but he's just in a completely impossible situation.

The PM, you can tell he's concerned, I mean, we've got a tough Prime Minister, and I think emmm, that's why he's our leader, but to lock someone up for seven years, especially someone the same age as his own sons, is not good - he's asked me to talk to Amanda Vanstone next week, which I will, and to explain, you know, my views that I believe that Peter is totally genuine.

MACCA: Yes, ehhh, ehhh, I didn't go to Baxter, you went over to Baxter and I did other things, ehh - ladies and gentlemen I went with Dick ehh, and he dropped me into lots of places, we had a lovely time, meeting people from all around Australia, it was hot and dry, but ehhh, what ehhh, did you see any other people who were in Baxter?

DICK SMITH: Yes I saw - I mean it's a very sad place, something I can't believe. They've designed it so you can't see out horizontally any- you can only see up, and it's out in an arid zone - so it's there to completely take the spirit away from people and it's a - it is a terrible place. But ehhh, I met - and I imagine this first of all, there's a couple of Iranian blokes who are Christians and say they'll be in fear of their lives if they go back; but more importantly I met a beautiful bloke from Sudan, I think he must have been about 28, and he had somehow got here - they're extraordinary adventures to get here - but finally they decided to ship him back home and so they flew him to Tanzania, and then he was supposed to go back to Sudan, but in the end something went wrong and they put him in jail in Tanzania for three days and then shipped him back to Australia again, so he's now back in jail in Baxter.

MACCA: Hmmmm.

DICK SMITH: Now, what I said to the Prime Minister, I said, look, most Aussies I believe support very tough laws in relation to people who come in here, but these people have come in to claim ehhh, asylum, and that's quite legal, and that's why none of them have been charged with any offence, none of them have actually ever gone to court, had a hearing or anything, and I think the PM agreed; that's probably acceptable for a couple of years until you sort it out, but you can't lock someone up for the rest of their life. All of these young people are basically gonna be locked up for the rest of their lives without a trial and without a charge, and that's just not acceptable.

MACCA: Hmmmm.


MACCA: So, you're going to talk to Amanda Vanstone during the week?

DICK SMITH: Yes, I'm going to talk to Amanda, and, and, I think - and I'm sure they will do something, because Amanda would agree that - see what the bureaucracy said is, is that, Ohh look, we can't confirm the information that Peter Qasim is giving us, now, they're implying that they can't confirm it because he's not telling the truth. More likely - I've said to the Prime Minister, that if they can't let him out here, I'm gonna go up to Kashmir, and in doing my research, the area of the little towns that he lives in, that you - it's really dangerous - and I said, Ohh if you're really probably won't allow you in there, because it's too dangerous, it's right on the border. Now can you imagine, I'm not gonna be allowed in there - but we're saying that Peter Qasim should go back and his life is not at risk. Well, that's crazy!

MACCA: Hmmmm.

DICK SMITH: So the PM has asked me to talk to Amanda, and the fact - I asked the PM actually, I said, would he come down to Baxter with me, and he sort-of ummmed and arrred, and well, he couldn't do that without the Minister anyway, and I said, wouldn't it be great if he would do that, come down with Amanda Vanstone and we meet some of these young people who are basically gonna be locked up forever. We just need to break the nexus, we need to have a thing that says look, that after three years you're allowed out. Peter Qasim is happy to go fruit picking, he's happy to do anything, and he would be a really useful person in our society.

MACCA: Dick - it ehh, was ehh, thanks for taking us on your trip, I wouldn't have ehhh, got to meet those people unless I had - ehhh, that was ehhh, a real eye-opener for me, it was wonderful. Thank you.

DICK SMITH: What a great country we've got.

MACCA: I'll say.

DICK SMITH: Thank you.

MACCA: Dick - nice to talk to you.

DICK SMITH: Good on yer.


From the soundfile at

Letters from the forgotten


Peter Qasim9 September 2004:  Australia's National Shame: Peter Qasim - Today will see a dismal anniversary marked across Australia, with the passing of six years in detention for a 30-year-old man from Indian Kashmir, Peter Qasim. Peter remains the longest detained asylum seeker in immigration detention, and following the recent Full High Court decision, there are no guarantees that he will not eventually die of old age in the future: he may remain in detention for the rest of his life.

The Age
February 17, 2005

Greg Egan tells the story of his friend Peter Qasim, who has languished in immigration detention for more than six years.

In May 2002, I received my first reply from a new penfriend named Peter Qasim. He thanked me for my letter, told me he'd been born in Indian Kashmir, and asked me about my hobbies and profession. He also mentioned that he'd been in immigration detention for close to four years.

I'd never given much thought to asylum seekers until the Tampa hit the headlines, but I'd always assumed they were detained for no more than a few months. When I realised how wrong I'd been, I looked around for some way to learn more about these people's experiences. In 2002, two of Perth's veteran refugee supporters gave me some names and ID numbers for detainees in Port Hedland and Curtin. They had met Peter Qasim during the two years he had spent in the tiny detention centre near Perth airport, before he was moved to Curtin, in the state's far north, late in 2001.

It took a while for me to learn Peter's life story. The first thing we discussed in our letters was astronomy. Curtin, like all detention centres, was lit up brightly at night, but Peter could discern a handful of stars, and wondered which ones they were. I sent him a small book on the southern sky, and our correspondence soon shifted to cosmology. Peter wrote, "Sometimes, I get shock by knowing that our galaxy is so big including billions of stars and there are billions of galaxies." I did my best to answer his questions about the universe, which in turn led us into philosophy.

For much of 2002, I might almost have been having an engaging intellectual discussion with anyone, anywhere, but every now and then an expression of thanks for "your support under this very long horrible hardship" would jolt me back to reality. My penfriend was already a long-term prisoner and he still saw no end in sight.

Gradually, I discovered that Peter had been orphaned when young, and taken in by a friend of his late father's who was involved in Kashmiri separatist politics. As a teenager, Peter was detained and tortured, and was so traumatised that he fled the village and tried to stay under the radar of the authorities, lest they do the same again. He managed to survive that way for five years, but in 1997, fearing he would be swept up in a major crackdown, he finally fled the country.

He ended up in Singapore, stowed away on a cargo ship to Papua New Guinea, and spent six months in prison there. Rather than deport him, the PNG authorities released him with no right to work. For eight months he tried to get by, surviving on the charity of church groups, but the situation was unsustainable. Eventually his friends helped him make a dangerous boat trip to the nearest Australian territory, Saibai Island in the Torres Strait.

Authorities in Australia accepted that Peter had been detained and beaten in India, but found that the five years he had spent without re-arrest meant he faced no ongoing fear of persecution. Appeals led nowhere.

Peter's asylum case was over long before I knew him, so we skirted such painful issues in favour of abstract matters of philosophy and religion. They couldn't always remain abstract, though. When I discussed my own atheism and Peter his own belief, he wrote that he needed God as a "friend of loneliness, who does not speak, does not laugh, does not cry".

By September 2002, Peter had been moved to Woomera. We discussed the forthcoming eclipse.

Early in 2003, Peter's suffering became impossible to hide. In January, he wrote about his loneliness at having no companions in Woomera who spoke his mother tongue. In February, he described how his previously gregarious personality had changed to one so withdrawn that officers and detainees alike imagined he was somehow snobbishly spurning them. The truth was, "nowadays I am not even interested to study and even my memories is being fallen out". I sent him a petition that a detainee in Villawood had written, calling on any third country to show compassion and take Australia's asylum seekers, but Peter had seen the same kind of pleas ignored a hundred times before. "The world is aware of this matter but no one come forward to adopt this beast of burden." He began signing letters "Your desperate friend".

Later that year, Peter was transferred to Baxter, in South Australia, and on July 1, 2003, I finally met him face-to-face in the visitors' centre. He gave me a gift, a small jar of saffron, and he told me more of the stories from his extraordinary life. I've been back many times now, and these visits have largely taken over from our correspondence.

In August 2003, Peter decided that anything Indian authorities might do to him would be better than dying in detention in Australia. He signed an application for an Indian passport, and prepared to return. At that time, the al-Masri court decision meant that if Peter's homeland didn't take him back in a reasonable time, he might even be released from detention while the problems were resolved.

A year-and-a-half later, after 6 years in detention, Peter has neither been returned nor released. In August 2004, the High Court quashed the al-Masri ruling. Despite a language test putting him squarely inside its borders, India does not accept that Peter's nationality has been proved beyond doubt, and his turbulent life in a conflict zone has left him with no papers and no fellow citizens able to vouch for him.

In the past few months, many Afghan friends of mine who started out as signatures at the bottom of letters have been sitting in my kitchen, or walking beside me in the street. Other friends have at least made it back to precarious situations in places such as Iraq.

One way or another, I hope to meet Peter in freedom. For his sake, it needs to be soon.

Greg Evans is a Perth-based author.

Liberal presses long-term detainee's case

The Age
By Michelle Grattan, Meagan Shaw
February 17, 2005

The case of Australia's longest-serving detainee is alarming Government backbenchers.

Liberal backbench concern is growing over the fate of Peter Qasim, Australia's longest-held detainee, with Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone pressed at a Coalition migration committee meeting to consider his release.

At Monday's meeting Victorian MP Phillip Barresi asked Senator Vanstone about Mr Qasim's incarceration, now more than six years.

Mr Barresi expressed concern that the Government was detaining a stateless person indefinitely and said there must be some way of resolving the case without setting a precedent.

He and other Liberals are planning to visit the Baxter detention centre in the next fortnight.

The joint parliamentary committee on migration yesterday decided to visit Baxter in April.

Senator Vanstone told the backbench committee that Mr Qasim's case, along with others, would continue to be reviewed, although she did not give the impression this meant he would be released.

Other MPs at the meeting were worried by aspects of the detainee policy.

This follows calls by Victorian Liberal Petro Georgiou, West Australian Liberal Judi Moylan, and the Nationals' Whip John Forrest for detainees generally to be released.

Senator Vanstone told The Age yesterday she would continue to re-examine the circumstances of each long-term detainee. "This does not mean re-running past requests for ministerial intervention, but it will mean considering what are the most appropriate arrangements for each individual".

Mr Qasim is from Indian-occupied Kashmir but India will not take him back.

The debate over his future came as churches called for a review of mandatory detention following the incarceration of mentally ill Australian resident Cornelia Rau.

The Archbishop of Melbourne and acting primate of the Anglican church, Peter Watson, writing in The Age today, said the Rau incident highlighted the systemic failure of the system.

"The fact that Cornelia Rau is an Australian citizen cannot be allowed to mask the reality that thousands of other men, women and children have suffered in a system that tramples basic human rights and fails many of our own standards of decency and care of the vulnerable," he said.

Meanwhile, refugee advocates claim internal body searches of males in immigration detention are being carried out to humiliate them. They say Muslim males and those from African countries have been targets.

An Immigration department spokesman last night denied that body cavity searches took place in immigration detention.

An Immigration Department sting netted 68 illegal workers and visa overstayers working in the Goulburn Valley.

The 49 Malaysians, 17 Thais and two Cambodians were taken to the Baxter detention centre to await deportation.

- with Andra Jackson

Facing a life in limbo behind the wire

The Age
By Penelope Debelle
February 11, 2005

Six-and-a-half years after entering detention, Australia's current longest-serving asylum seeker, the stateless Indian (Muhammed) Peter Qasim, is facing lifetime detention.

"In the absence of ministerial intervention, he faces the potential of life in detention," Perth refugee advocate Greg Egan wrote to Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone in a plea for help last September.

Mr Egan, one of a circle of supporters who travel long distances to visit Mr Qasim at South Australia's Baxter detention centre, said yesterday it was conceivable that the asylum seeker might never be released. Since a High Court ruling last August that overturned a legal barrier to indefinite detention, long-serving detainees such as Mr Qasim can be held forever without being charged.

"His supporters keep telling him this can't go on forever but we keep getting proved wrong," Mr Egan said.

Mr Qasim's detention, which began in September 1998, has concerned federal Liberals. In Canberra this week Victorian MP Petro Georgiou said Mr Qasim had been held for longer than the average prisoner charged with robbery.

"To put it simply, I believe the policy of indefinite detention of people who have committed no crime - and I think this is a position actually supported by both sides of the Parliament - and who pose no threat to the Australian community should not be sustained," he said.

Speaking from Baxter yesterday, Mr Qasim, 30, said: "I've been here a long, long time. I don't have hope. I feel that one day I will die here in detention."

Mr Qasim's problem is that he is not wanted by Australia, and no other country will take him. According to evidence accepted by the Immigration Department, Mr Qasim, who was orphaned at a young age, fled his foster home in a volatile area of Kashmir where he was detained and beaten by authorities for participating in the independence movement.

In 1997, fearing arrest, he crossed the border to Pakistan. He eventually arrived in Australia on a boat 14 months later, without papers or evidence of his former life. He was rejected for asylum on the grounds that his life was not sufficiently endangered in Kashmir to make him a refugee. In despair, Mr Qasim in August 2003 asked to be sent back India, but the Indian authorities have refused to recognise his nationality or issue him with papers. A humanitarian request has been made to Senator Vanstone to intervene and allow him to stay in Australia.

Mr Egan said Mr Qasim - who was admitted to hospital with severe depression in 2000 - genuinely believed he would die in Baxter. "It doesn't mean necessarily dying at 70, it means dying at 35 or 40," he said.

Mr Qasim, described by friends as kind and intelligent, was not suicidal at present but intended to kill himself if all hope was lost, Mr Egan said.