Asylum seeker boat sinks off Indonesia

Updated On: Dec 20, 2011

Rescuers said they have found 15 more survivors after a boat filled with asylum seekers on its way to Christmas Island, Australia, capsized in stormy seas on Saturday.

The number of those rescued has been raised to 48, however more than 200 are still missing.

Australia has sent a navy boat from Christmas Island, and a surveillance plane, to help with the search and rescue operation. Police also interviewed survivors amid suspicions that the accused people smuggler Sayeed Abbas - now in prison awaiting extradition to Australia - was involved.

"It's almost been two days since the boat capsized, the water is warm, but very rough. The chances of finding people is becoming more and more remote," Australian Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told Australian radio.

Indonesian authorities have reportedly identified the man believed to be responsible for sending out the boat as an accomplice of Abbas. Abbas has been accused of despatching several boats filled with asylum seekers to Australia. The Australian authorities have requested for his extradition so he can face trial for people smuggling.

Survivors said that passengers were left to drown as the captain and six crew of the vessel took life vests and started to swim away.

Disaster management officials said most of those on board were asylum-seekers from Middle Eastern countries, including Iran and Afghanistan, as well as Indonesia. Two children were among those rescued, according to Sugeng, an official from the East Java Disaster Management Agency.

Australia's government has come under fire in the past for what some perceive as a soft border protection policy that encourages asylum-seekers to flee to Australia.

More recently, the government was criticised for a plan to swap asylum seekers for refugees in Malaysia. Uproar ensued as Malaysia has not signed the UN Convention on the Protection of Refugees, leading to concerns that the repatriated asylum seekers could be mistreated.

Boat people, most often economic migrants seeking a better life elsewhere, often travel in boats that are old or poorly made, and overcrowded. Acceptance of boats has long been the source of heated political debate in Australia, despite the fact that asylum seekers arriving by boat represent only around 3% of annual immigration.

Report: Hope dims for finding survivors after boat sinks off Indonesian coast (CNN, 19 December 2011)

Report: Rescuers find 13 on island off East Java (Sydney Morning Herald, 20 December 2011)

Report: Crew fled as packed boat sank (TODAY, 20 December 2011)

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