Asylum seeker tragedy: 350 drown, 44 survive

The World Today Archive - Tuesday, 23 October, 2001
Reporter: Ginny Stein

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Well many people would observe that the deaths of 350 people ought not to be used as political capital in any campaign. They have now confirmed that at least that number died in the sea of Java. The latest information coming from Jakarta is that 44 people survived the disaster including an eight-year-old boy who lost a total of 21 members of his immediate family.

Well joining us in the Indonesian capital, our correspondent Ginny Stein. Ginny what do you know about the condition of those survivors on the Indonesian island?

GINNY STEIN: Well we know that there are a group of them. 18 have been taken to hospital in Boegel which is about an hour away from the capital Jakarta. They are talking to officials from the International Organisation for Migration. They say that the are very distressed, very traumatised by their experience.

Some of the injuries they've received range from broken bones to just being in the water for as long as they had -- injuries they received there. It's believed that they were under the water for more than 24 hours before they were picked up by fishermen.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: I suppose it's a miracle that any survived at all. It was purely local fishermen, not official search and rescue organisations from Indonesia which picked them up?

GINNY STEIN: Well we are not hearing that it was anything more than fishermen. What has been surprising is so little information has come out about this considering that the vessel capsized last Friday and it's only late last night we begin to hear anything about this incident.

Now we do know that it was fishermen and that they were picked up and taken -- in the last 24 hours they were brought to shore and are now in hospital. The majority of them. Others are being checked in a private hotel.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Have the Indonesian authorities attempted to explain as to why their official organisations were not more aware or what they may be doing in order to stop other boats which obviously are not seaworthy put into sea?

GINNY STEIN: Well it's -- basically there is no official comment at this stage about anything. The various agencies are often very disjointed. They don't work together terribly well. When we -- we've been speaking this morning to Immigration Department officials. Many of them simply don't even know that this has happened. It's an indication perhaps how little these organisations have direct contact with each other or they simply don't talk.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Has there been any more talk -- talking about talk -- of Megawati not directly embracing this issue with Prime Minister Howard when she saw him up at the APEC?

GINNY STEIN: No there's been nothing here locally about that. I mean this is very much an Australian story. The whole issue of asylum seekers coming to Australia. It doesn't get a great run here.

In Indonesia what we do hear is the occasional comment piece from people saying they are surprised by Australia's stance that such a wealthy nation south of Indonesia is putting up such a fuss over so few when there are so many migrants here, so many asylum seekers already in Indonesia, so many displaced people, that they find that Australia's approach is quite selfish.

JOHN HIGHFIELD: Ginny Stein in Jakarta. Thank you very much indeed.


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