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killed in drowning tragedy: UNHCR
The UNHCR’s Raymond
Hall has been speaking with the survivors of the boat tragedy. Mr Hall
says some of those who died had already been recognised by the United
Nations as legitimate refugees, but the lack of a long-term solution for
their future set them on their fateful journey from Indonesia. He is
urging for a more burden-sharing arrangement among the international
Compere: Tony Jones
And joining me now from Jakarta is Raymond Hall, the UNHCR's [United
Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] regional
Raymond Hall, what are the survivors telling you
about this fatal journey and the ordeal that they went
RAYMOND HALL, REGIONAL REPRESENTATIVE, UNHCR: Well, what
we're hearing from the survivors is obviously that they were on this very
small vessel, which set sail on the Thursday last week and which began to
sink on Friday, that most of them were drowned at sea.
We have the
44 survivors who've been brought back in to Indonesia.
number of things that we're picking up is how horrendously overcrowded
that very small boat was.
We're also hearing, of course, about the
mixed composition of this group of people which included people that we've
never seen in Indonesia, cases who we've rejected for refugee status and
also people who we'd in fact recognised as refugees.
hearing at the moment from a still very traumatised group of people a
number of things.
The picture is slowly emerging but it's not yet
TONY JONES: Now, do we know where they were from,
for example, how many women and children were on the boat, those sort of
RAYMOND HALL: Well, we know, the initial reports, I think
at this stage we've still got to treat the figures with a bit of caution
because we've not been able to corroborate them yet.
from the people themselves is there were about 150 women, 150 children and
the balance would be men.
Seven women and five children have
The rest are men who've survived.
And this is
often, in previous experiences of this kind of thing happening, which
takes us very much back to the 1980s with Vietnamese boat people, often
the women and children are put under deck, the men stay on the main deck
and, when the boat sinks, the women and children are the first to
TONY JONES: You say you're getting information that some of
these people were genuine refugees or had been processed by you and found
to be genuine refugees.
Do we know how many of the ship's company
or the boat's company were genuine refugees?
RAYMOND HALL: We've
still got the whole process to go through of really matching names and
getting information from very traumatised people.
figure that we've got so far, which does need corroborating, is that 30
people, it's been mentioned so far, may have been recognised as
And of course, while this is an immense tragedy for
everybody concerned it's doubly tragic that people already recognised as
refugees should feel desperate enough to have to try to move on under such
TONY JONES: Raymond Hall, why would people
who've been already been processed and found to be refugees by the United
Nations, why would they take such a terrible risk?
RAYMOND HALL: I
think probably that relates to some of the mounting frustrations that
recognised refugees in Indonesia have been feeling.
We've got at
the moment 500 recognised refugees, who have been recognised over the last
couple of years.
We have to find countries which will take
They're only allowed to stay temporarily in
They don't want to stay here and countries are not
queuing up to take these people.
So far, just to give you the
figures, we've had 61 people only accepted for resettlement and that's not
for lack of trying.
And we've had 31 people who've left for other
Recognised refugees get increasingly impatient at the
lack of long-term solutions for them and this is really something at which
we have been urging for months now should be addressed and which really
has to be addressed as part of an international burden-sharing
TONY JONES: Right.
What is the Australian
Government's position here?
Has the Australian Government agreed to
take any of these people?
RAYMOND HALL: The Australian Government
so far has not agreed to accept any people from this case
They've begun to look at a small number of people with close
family links in Australia, without any commitment yet to accept those
cases but they have begun to look at them.
But Australia has been
very reluctant to accept people from Indonesia on the understandable
grounds that this would simply attract more people to come.
nonetheless, I think if we're to get other countries, other governments,
to take an interest in providing solutions for these refugees, Australia
has to be part of an international burden-sharing solutions-oriented
TONY JONES: Is there any suggestion in what you're
saying that the Australian Government's refusal to accept any of these
people as refugees in Australia, as part of our intake, has that had an
effect on what other countries are doing or deciding to do with these same
RAYMOND HALL: Well, I think that, obviously, there is a
I think it would be easier to get an
international burden-sharing arrangement if all governments agreed to
cooperate on this problem, including Australia.
I think Australia
would have to be part of that.
Now, Australia has made offers in
terms of accepting refugees from other parts of the world etc, so I don't
want to say that there's been no positive offers on the Australian
Australia has been grappling with this problem and looking at
ways of tackling it but we have a concrete problem of 500 recognised
refugees here and we need solutions for them and I think that this tragedy
that has occurred is, in part, due at least where the recognised refugees
are concerned, to a lack of those solutions.
TONY JONES: Are you
saying their state of mind, their desperation, was somehow due to this
fact that no-one is taking them for resettlement?
RAYMOND HALL: I
think they've seen themselves as being in a bit of a blind alley and
they're seen their prospects further decrease.
After the World
Trade Centre atrocity, refugees have gathered themselves that their own
cases for resettlement would become more difficult and it would be more
difficult to find countries willing to accept them.
So maybe on
that basis as well, some of these people have, regrettably, decided to
take the further risk of travelling on under extremely perilous
circumstances and that really is something that has to be
TONY JONES: Raymond Hall, thank you for taking the time
to talk to us tonight on Lateline.
RAYMOND HALL: You're very