Asylum seekers drown on way to Australia
February 2, 2012
At least eight people have drowned after a boat bound for Australia sunk off Malaysia in the latest asylum-seeker tragedy.
It is believed the boat was carrying about 25 people from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq when it capsized off the coast of Malaysia.
Eighteen men have been rescued while authorities try to establish how many remain missing.
Marine police official N.Kalai Chelvan said the boat was heading to Indonesia's Batam island early yesterday when it sank in choppy waters. He said the boat was carrying a group of men who were likely trying to reach Australia through Indonesia.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said the government was saddened by the news.
"The government was advised of this tragedy by the Malaysian Government a short time ago," he said in a statement.
Mr Bowen said the accident highlighted the need for off-shore processing of asylum seekers and the government's so-called Malaysia solution.
Among the dead were four Pakistanis and one Afghan man.
It is believed the men had entered Malaysia by land from Thailand.
The New Straits Times newspaper quoted a 22-year-old Afghan known only as Sayed as saying that the 11-metre boat was too small to fit the group but that they had been assured it was safe.
"The journey was initially smooth, but about two hours later, the sea became choppy and I could see water getting into the boat," he told the newspaper.
"It was at this time that the boatman turned off the engine and everyone panicked. Suddenly, the boat started to sink. We all jumped into the water."
Meanwhile, a group of more than 50 ethnic Rohingya from Burma believed to have been heading to Australia have been rescued by fisherman in the open sea off North Aceh in Indonesia after their boat broke down.
The 54 asylum seekers, some in poor health, were picked up yesterday afternoon after fishermen spotted their wooden vessel 12 kilometres off-shore being buffeted by large waves.
One of the fishermen involved in the rescue says the boat was damaged and its engine had broken down.
The asylum seekers have been taken to a mosque in the village of Blukat Teubai.
with AP, AAP
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