Border protection seeks confirmation of boatpeople deaths

Stephen Fitzpatrick in Jakarta
June 14, 2010 12:00AM

AUSTRALIAN protection services will ask Indonesia for confirmation of the deaths of up to 12 asylum-seekers when a storm sank their boat last week.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor said Indonesian authorities were “best placed” to confirm the disaster.

Indonesian authorities have so far been unable to confirm the reports, originating from two Sri Lankan survivors of the incident, which occurred as asylum seekers tried to transfer from a small fishing boat to a larger vessel destined for Australia.

However multiple reports from independent sources in the Sri Lankan asylum seeker community in Indonesia have described the incident, in which at least two former passengers from the boat in Merak – the vessel intercepted last October on Kevin Rudd’s request – are believed to be amongst those who drowned.

Another former Merak passenger said it was understood the larger boat had either headed for Australia immediately after the incident, or had moved to another part of Indonesia awaiting an opportune moment for departure.

Yet another berated the organisers on board the larger boat for apparently not attempting a rescue of those who had fallen overboard.

Well over 100 of the originally 254 passengers on board the Merak boat are now jailed in the Tanjung Pinang immigration detention centre on Bintan Island, where claims of guard brutality are common.

Some of those who did not go to Tanjung Pinang are known to have reached Christmas Island, while an unknown number more – those who escaped from Merak before the standoff there ended early this year – are known to still be in Jakarta and elsewhere in Indonesia waiting to catch boats to Australia.

As well as the Sri Lankans from Merak believed to have died in last week’s incidents, several Afghans are also understood to have drowned.


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