News / Asia

Australia Under Fire Over Asylum Policy After Indonesian Boat Sinks

A rescuer carries a child after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off Java island, in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013.
A rescuer carries a child after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off Java island, in Cianjur, West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013.
Henry Ridgwell
— Indonesian authorities say 189 asylum seekers were rescued from a sinking boat off the coast Wednesday. Coast guard officials say at least nine people died. The refugees were trying to reach Christmas Island, part of Australia, which has just implemented a new policy blocking asylum applications for migrants arriving by boat. 

Exhausted and dehydrated, survivors of the voyage were given shelter Wednesday in the village of Cidaun on West Java in Indonesia. Among them were many children and pregnant women.

Most survivors said they were from Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka. Their boat had set off from Papua New Guinea heading for the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

  • Rescue workers walk along the beach as they search for suspected asylum seekers who were on a boat that capsized, Sukapura beach in West Java, Indonesia, July 25, 2013.
  • A suspected asylum seeker cries after finding out about the death of her husband, at Jayanti beach clinic in West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013.
  • Fishermen hold bodies of children who were suspected asylum seekers on a boat that capsized after hitting a reef, July 24, 2013.
  • A rescuer carries a child after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013. 
  • Suspected asylum seekers that were on a boat that capsized July 23 after hitting a reef, arrive at Jayanti beach, West Java province, Indonesia, July 24, 2013. 
  • Suspected asylum seekers who were on a boat that capsized July 23, 2013, after hitting a reef, sit at a temporary shelter near Jayanti beach, West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013. 
  • Rescuers carry the body of a victim killed after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013. 
  • A police officer carries a child who appears to be unconscious after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off  West Java, Indonesia, July 24, 2013. 

Last week, Australia signed an agreement stating that asylum seekers who arrive by boat will not be granted settlement in Australia, even if they qualify as refugees, but instead will be sent to Papua New Guinea. Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said Tuesday’s shipwreck proves the need for a tough policy.

“This underlines the need for policy changes in Australia on asylum seekers, which sends a very clear message to people smugglers to stop sending people by boat to Australia. We are seeing too many drownings, we are seeing too many sinkings, too many people being lost at sea.”  

Watch An earlier boat carrying migrants arrived on Christmas Island July 20. The asylum seekers were the first to have their applications processed in Papua New Guinea under the new deal.

The agreement has prompted a wave of protest. Livio Zilli is a refugee lawyer from Amnesty International.

Watch Henry Ridgwell's related report:

Migrants Boat Sinks Off Indonesia; Australia Criticized Over Asylum Policyi
X
July 25, 2013 10:27 AM
Indonesian authorities say 189 asylum seekers were rescued from a sinking boat off the coast Wednesday. Coast guard officials say at least nine people died. The refugees were trying to reach Christmas Island, part of Australia, which has just implemented a new policy blocking asylum applications for migrants arriving by boat. As Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London, human rights groups have widely criticized the Australian policy.

“They will be apparently detained indefinitely, we don’t know how long that whole process will last. So we are very concerned for the individuals. Secondly we are concerned because effectively Australia is cherry-picking its international obligations.”

The governor of Oro Province in Papua New Guinea, Gary Juffa, questioned what his country is getting from the deal.

“By accepting this are we really doing as we are told by the Australian government or are we doing this because we feel that we’re assisting Australia?  If so, what is the cost, what is the price, what is the benefit?”

Australia will fund a major expansion of the Manus detention center on Papua New Guinea. A recent U.N. report found major shortcomings at the site.
Livio Zilli of Amnesty says Australia must change course.

 “Everyone who arrives, no matter how they arrive to Australia or on Australian shores should be given effective access to refugee status procedures in the Australian mainland.”

Australia says more than 15,000 asylum seekers have arrived by boat on Australian territory this year. Since 2001, around 1,000 people have died making the crossing.

The Australian government has produced online videos in several languages -- including Farsi and Vietnamese among others -- warning migrants that they will not be settled in Australia if they arrive by boat.

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by: Yoshi from: Sapporo
July 26, 2013 1:10 AM
I feel like back up Austrarian administration. It has been probiding people seeking asylum with refuges and identifications qualifying to live in Australian mainland. Australia is so generous to migrants because it was established by migrants by itself. But I heard government budget does not allow it to keep care for a lot of migrants. I also could understand Papua New Guinea's struggle to deal with migrants even with some financial help from Australia. First of all, those countries which produce refugees are primarily responsible for this matter. I hope their home countries return to peaceful and wealthy lands as early as possible.


by: Flavian Hardcastle
July 25, 2013 7:25 PM
It's hard to justify an immigration system that encourages people to jump on rickety boats by the hundreds and attempt to sail the open sea. Seven children died in this most recent disaster.

People should be deterred from doing that, not rewarded.

Australia is providing refuge to asylum seekers. It's just that those who arrive by boat will get their refuge in Papua New Guinea rather than Australia (which is really what they're paying the people smugglers for, let's face it).


by: Andrew Johnson from: Sydney Australia
July 25, 2013 2:39 AM
Papuan refugees have been denied help for decades ever since America asked the United Nations to occupy the colony of West New Guinea and to appoint Indonesia as the administrator of the colony under UN General Assembly resolution 1752 (XVII)

It's fine to becry the plight of people from the middle-east, but what about the locals? What about the 400,000 West Papuan's who have already been killed and the political prisoners being held by Indonesia while BP mines their LNG and America mines their gold and copper?

West Papua is a UN trust territory, not only a non-self-governing territory entitled to self-determination but as a trust territory the UN has a LEGAL duty to protect West Papua's human rights including self-determination under article 76 of the UN Charter. The ONLY REASON the UN committees have not got West Papua on their lists is because neither Ban Ki-moon nor an UN member has yet told the UN Trusteeship Council about General Assembly resolution 1752 (XVII).

When will we show the same level of concern for the Pacific peoples of Papua as we do for the refugees from Iran and other middle eastern nations?


by: European from: South EU
July 24, 2013 10:29 PM
Australia shuld be ashamed for its aparthaid and racist policies on immigration and stoping poor refugees to its shores just because they are dark complacted skin or maybe a diffrent religion or kreed....I am ashemed that my ancestors are Australian and I will never travel to Australia on bussnis or pleasure again with my family or alone

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