06/27/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA - AUSTRALIA

Boat with 150 refugees shipwrecked off Christmas Island

The occupants were headed for Australia, a route used by human traffickers. Last week another boat with 200 refugees sank with more than 90 victims. Canberra demands agreements to curb phenomenon. Asylum seekers come from poor areas or theaters of war such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.

Jakarta (AsiaNews / Agencies) - A boat containing at least 150 refugees to Australia has capsized north of Christmas Island, a week after a similar incident that caused the sinking of a boat in the same the area. The Australian authorities for safety at sea (AMSA) report that early this morning the boat launched a distress call, answered by two merchant ships in the vicinity who began the rescue operation of people whose nationality is uncertain. In addition, two Navy ships and a Canberra reconnaissance aircraft are headed to the area to help in the rescue operations.

The waters that separate Indonesia and Christmas Island are a beaten track for refugees and asylum seekers who transit through Indonesia and with the help of unscrupulous traffickers try to reach Australia by every possible means. The continent is a popular destination for ordinary people, persecuted political prisoners escaping from poor areas or theaters of war such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka among others. The boats used for transportation, however, are inadequate, overcrowded and in poor condition so any crossing is high risk. In December 2010, 50 people died in the sinking of their boat off the island.

According to AMSA reports, there are some survivors but it has not specified their number, and the conditions in the area are "good, but not ideal" for providing relief. The Australian Prime Minister Julia Jillard intervened on the issue of the how many refugees were on board: "There are good reasons for believing it - said the Prime Minister - that there are between 123 and 133 people" and she adds that " Best estimates are that 123 were recovered. " The unspecified number of occupants, Jillard concludes, means that it is not clear if and how many are currently missing.

Last week 110 people were rescued in the same area, following the sinking of a ship full of refugees, with over 200 people on board, the majority Afghan refugees. The victims are over 90, but rescuers were able to retrieve only 17 bodies. The drama of boat people and asylum seekers who attempt to cross the seas and land in Australia are the source of political tension in Canberra between the majority Labour and Liberal opposition. The government is demanding for a broad agreement with Malaysia to stem the flow and contain the emergency.

 

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