Australian refugee groups have made contact with some 60 asylum-seekers adrift in waters off Bali after concerns their vessel had capsized. While authorities now hope to rescue the group, the refugees, including ethnic Hazaras from Afghanistan, now face detention in Indonesia.
After a distress call was made Thursday evening and all contact with the vessel was lost, authorities reported no sign of the boat Friday morning.
The boat was last reported off Sumbawa, a small island east of Bali. Sixty asylum seekers, including children, are thought to be on board.
Ian Rintoul of the Australian Refugee Action Coalition says hopes of finding survivors were dim until the group received a surprise phone call Friday afternoon.
“No, no, the boat hasn’t gone down," insisted Rintoul, "we just got a call about 10 minutes ago, we got a call from the boat. It's still floating, it is still adrift. I’d given up because we hadn’t heard anything from 2 o’clock, but it was from the same number and the same people… The engine has definitely failed, they are still needing assistance.”
While contact has been established, authorities are searching by land and sea to identify the exact location of the boat.
Thousands of refugees, mostly from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, make the perilous journey through Indonesian waters ever year in the hope they will be granted asylum in Australia.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the U.N. refugee convention and often jails and deports asylum seekers awaiting refugee status.
The Australian government has drawn criticism in recent years for urging Indonesian authorities to pick up asylum seekers so they are processed in Indonesia, rather than Australia.
Ian Rintoul says the refugee coalition is still waiting to see what happens with this latest boat.
“If they are rescued by Indonesian authorities that may well be placed in detention in Indonesia and that is one of our concerns about the whole situation in Indonesia and the pressure from the Australian government pushing people to get on boats that aren’t as well prepared as they could be,” Rintoul said.
Last Sunday a Singapore-registered tanker rescued around 120 Australia-bound asylum seekers, mostly Afghans and some Iranians, from their sinking wooden boat.
They refused to get off the docked tanker for two days, saying they wanted to continue to Australia where their rights are more protected.
In December, a boat carrying around 250 mostly Afghan and Iranian asylum seekers sank in Indonesian waters on its way to Christmas Island. Only 47 survived.