Search continues for asylum seekers missing after boat bound for Australia sinks

Tragedy comes days after prime minister changed refugee policy so that people who arrive by boat will no longer be allowed to settle there

Heather Saul
Wednesday 24 July 2013 19:02

Rescuers are continuing to search for dozens of asylum seekers after their boat sank in Indonesian waters on route to Australia.

More than 150 survivors have been taken to safety whilst a baby boy, a 10-year-old girl and a woman were among the dead.

The incident occurred after prime minister Kevin Rudd changed Australia's refugee policy so that people who arrive by boat will no longer have permission to live in the country. His move was in response to domestic political pressure and a string of accidents involving rickety boats packed with asylum seekers attempting to sail to Australia.

Police said the group was believed to consist of around 204 migrants from Sri Lanka, Iran and Iraq. They departed Tuesday morning from Jayanti, a coastal town in Cianjur, using a smaller boat that was supposed to meet a larger ship at sea to complete the journey to Australia.

Their overloaded boat, built to carry only 150 passengers, sank about nine hours into the trip due to a leak. Some of the migrants scrambled for the lifeboat, while others swam before being rescued.

Among the survivors was a pregnant Sri Lankan woman who was being treated at a health centre in the town of Cidaun.

A rescuer at the scene said the exact number missing remains unclear since some survivors may have fled to avoid authorities.

The asylum seeker issue has been a long-standing point of contention for both Indonesia and Australia. Last week, Indonesia decided to stop issuing visas on arrival to Iranians because a growing number of them have been caught smuggling drugs or using Indonesia as a transit point for seeking asylum in Australia.

As of last Friday, Australia said all newly arrived refugees would be resettled on the island nation of Papua New Guinea, though their claims for asylum will still be assessed in Australia and at detention camps in Papua New Guinea and the tiny island nation of Nauru.

Australia will help genuine refugees settle in Papua New Guinea. Others can return to their home nations or a country other than Australia.

The move, condemned by refugee and human rights advocates, is an attempt to stem the flood of asylum seekers who travel to Australia from ports in Indonesia and Malaysia. Hundreds have died attempting to undertake the journey in recent years.

Mr Rudd said the latest boat incident highlights the need for a shift in policy."Too many innocent people have been lost at sea," he said. "The asylum seeker policy we've adopted is about sending a very clear message to people smugglers that if you try to come to Australia by boat you will not be settled in Australia. ... That is all about destroying the people smugglers' business model."

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