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Rush of asylum-seekers before Australian crackdown

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ROD MCGUIRK | AP ARABNEWS

Indonesian rescue teams evacuate a sick asylum-seeker at Merak seaport on Friday after being rescued with other asylum seekers and transfered from an Australian navy and a commercial ship after their boat sunk. (AFP)


Friday 31 August 2012

CANBERRA: Australia calls it a “closing-down sale” for people smugglers: Asylum-seekers in rickety boats are reaching its shores in record numbers ahead of a tougher deportation policy starting in September. For many migrants, the price of haste may be death.

About 150 people were aboard an overcrowded, wooden fishing boat that sank off the Indonesia coast as it headed for a remote Australian island. More than 50 people had been rescued by Friday morning, and one body had been recovered, Australian and Indonesian officials said. The captain of one rescue vessel believes he saw bodies in the water.
The emergency was the latest created by a growing human smuggling trade in which thousands of would-be refugees from countries including Afghanistan, Iran and Sri Lanka attempt dangerous sea voyages from Indonesia to Australia.

Australia’s center-left Labour Party government announced plans this month to deter future arrivals by deporting new asylum seekers who arrive by boat to the Pacific atoll of Nauru or to Australia’s nearest neighbor, Papua New Guinea. The government says they will be held in tent camps for as long as they would spend in refugee camps if they had not paid people smugglers to take them to Australia.

The new approach will begin when the Nauru camp opens in September, but meanwhile the rush is on. More than 1,900 people have arrived in Australia in August — the highest monthly total on record — in hopes of accelerating a refugee claims process that can take years.

The numbers have been steadily climbing: More than 9,800 asylum seekers have arrived this year, more than double the total for all of 2011.

“People smugglers are running a closing-down sale,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said. He predicts asylum seekers will stop paying people smugglers $10,000 or more to transport them more than 400 kilometers (250 miles) from Indonesia or Malaysia by boat if they are not guaranteed that they will be accepted by Australia.

A previous conservative government established camps in Nauru and Papua New Guinea a decade ago as part of a policy that slowed boat arrivals to a trickle but was condemned by human rights groups as cruel.

A Labor government closed the camps after winning elections in 2007, a year when only 339 asylum seekers arrived by boat. As the numbers have grown, the influx, and the deaths of would-be migrants at sea, have angered many Australians.

No asylum-seeker deaths have been confirmed since the policy change was announced, but more than 300 have lost their lives making the perilous journey across the Sunda Strait between Indonesia and the Australian territory of Christmas Island since December. More than 90 of them died in two boat accidents that occurred within a week of each other in June.

Authorities also fear the worst for 67 asylum seekers who have not contacted family or friends since they left Indonesia on an Australia-bound boat in late June.

In the latest incident, a boat reportedly carrying 150 asylum seekers sank off the main Indonesian island of Java on Wednesday.

The crew of a merchant ship taking part in the search, Liberian-flagged APL Bahrain, spotted survivors in the water early Thursday 75 kilometers (45 miles) southwest of Java and rescued six, Clare said.

The Bahrain’s captain, Manuel Nistorescu, told the Fairfax Media website that he was about to abandon the late-night search when he heard whistles and yelling from the dark water.

Nistorescu said the six rescued, all Afghan men, appeared to be in good condition and had been in the water for almost 24 hours. There were also women and children aboard the asylum-seeker boat when it sank, he said.

He added that he believed he saw bodies in the water. “I think I saw some of them dead,” he said.

Other merchant ships, Indonesian government ships and Australian military boats and planes also were involved in the search.

By Friday, Indonesian search and rescue official Sunarbowo Sandi said that rescuers had pulled a total of 55 survivors and one body from the water. The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said rescuers had pulled 54 survivors and one body from the water.

“High waves are hampering our search and rescue efforts,” Sandi said.

Six of the survivors were hurt and in critical condition, Sandi said. All of those rescued were taken to Merak, 120 kilometers (75 miles) west of Jakarta, for medical treatment, and would then be transferred to an immigration detention facility there, Sandi said.

After docking in Merak, however, some of the survivors refused to get off the ship and were demanding they be allowed to continue to Australia on a new boat. Indonesian authorities were trying to persuade them to leave the ship.

The distress call was received by Australian authorities early Wednesday by satellite phone from someone aboard the missing boat requesting help. The person said there were 150 people aboard and the vessel had engine trouble. The boat was then 15 kilometers (9 miles) off Java, officials said.

Indonesian authorities initially searched with two boats and a helicopter but found no trace of the boat by late Wednesday.

The merchant ship found the first six survivors after Australia expanded the search area.
___
Associated Press writer Niniek Karmini contributed to this report from Jakarta.

Posted by on August 31, 2012. Filed under Asia,Australia,Indonesia. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Responses to Rush of asylum-seekers before Australian crackdown

  1. S. Salamat Ali,

    September 26, 2012 at 4:02 am

    The reading of this horror-struck posting makes one feel very painful due to these un-thinkable heart-rendering details of the plight of the Australia-bound boat-travelers from South Asian countries. In order to end such immoral, cruelly dangerous sea voyage on small wooden boats used for human smuggling, causing untold intolerable miseries and even death of the asylum seekers must be checked and stopped at the points of start of their journey and those human smugglers, who show green pastures awaiting these poor boat travelers must be dealt with strict hand and given exemplary punishment. And the conditions at home of these boat-people must be made such that they are not compelled to leave their land of birth and dear kin and kith.

  2. Bashir

    December 21, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Any one please show me the the list of dead or alive peoples, beacuse their family have still hope that if they are alive. or if they are dead so their family will mourn once and there will be no more mourn because they were married and have their own family….PLEASE……..HELP US…..!

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