Refugees’ boat sinks off Indonesia

Refugees’ boat sinks off Indonesia

JAKARTA - Reuters
Refugees’ boat sinks off Indonesia

Survivors rest in a village center in Cidaun, West Java after their Australia-bound boat sank off the southern coast of Indonesia, leaving at least three dead. AFP photo

Three people died, but another 157 suspected asylum seekers were rescued after their boat sank off the southern coast of Indonesia, officials said July 24 after earlier reports that as many as 60 may have perished.

The latest case of a boat sinking while attempting the perilous journey came five days after Australia slammed the door on would-be refugees with a deal to send all boat arrivals to Papua New Guinea for assessment and eventual settlement.

The debate over refugees and people smuggling has long been a hot political issue in Australia and has intensified with an election looming in a few weeks.

Earlier yesterday, News Ltd and other Australian media reported that the boat was carrying as many as 170 people and that up to 60 were feared dead or missing. Indonesian emergency authorities however said later that 160 people were on board and that three had died, two women and a 12-year-old boy from Sri Lanka. “(The survivors) have been taken to a temporary immigration holding facility ... They seem fine,” Rochmali, the head of the search and rescue office for West Java, told Reuters.

There were also conflicting reports about the nationalities of those on board. They were described variously as coming from Iran, Iraq and Bangladesh, as well as Sri Lanka.

1,000 dead since 2001

The boat capsized late on July 23 after hitting a reef off the coast of Sukapura, about 270 kilometers south of the capital Jakarta, said Rochmali, who like many Indonesians uses one name.

Since 2001, about 1,000 people have died while trying to reach Australia’s Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island in unseaworthy boats. More than 15,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat in Australian territory this year.