07/24/2013, 00.00
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Refugee boat directed to Australia sinks off Indonesia, at least three dead

The sinking, which occurred off the coast of Java, causes criticism towards Australia's new stand on refugees as Canberra's 'hard line' worsens the plight of migrants.

Jakarta (AsiaNews/Agencies) - A boat carrying migrants to Australia sank off the coast of Java, in Indonesia, last night, with more than 150 people rescued. The sinking comes just days after Australia adopts a more restrictive policy vis-à-vis refugees.

Last Friday, Australian Prime Minister of Australia Kevin Rudd signed a deal with his Papua New Guinea counterpart to send illegal migrants to Manus Island (PNG) where their applications will be processed for resettlement in that country.

"Our country has had enough of people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers and seeing them drown on the high seas," Rudd said.

However, both the Church and the United Nations condemned the agreement between the two governments as a violation of human rights and dignity.

Meanwhile, 157 people were rescued in the latest incident in Indonesia and three bodies recovered, including two children, said Rochmali, a rescuer at the scene. "Some of survivors said there were about 200 people on board," he added, "But we believe many have survived and run away avoiding authorities."

Because of proximity to Australia (about 500 kilometers), migrants often use the islands of Indonesia as a staging point for their journey to Australia where they hope to obtain asylum. In the past year, some 15,000 refugees, mostly Iranians and Iraqis, have reached the coast of Australia.

Papua New Guinea is the poorest country in the region with a population of 7 million speaking more than 800 local languages.

"How can we accommodate settlers in PNG when we cannot accommodate our own people" in terms of homes, education, health care and jobs, said Fr John Glynn, one of the first Irish Catholic missionaries in the country.

However, "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," Rudd recently told reporters in Melbourne. "Too many innocent people have been lost at sea."

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