Leaking boatload of women and children
By Belinda Hickman
The Australian
17 August 2001

MORE than 150 women and young children arrived at Christmas Island yesterday, having spent three days in a leaking wooden boat possibly trying to reach spouses who have already come to Australia.

They were part of a group of 351 people, the second-largest boatload of illegal immigrants ever to land in Australia, and will spend the next few days in a tent city on the island's foreshore.

Most of the refugees are from Iraq, but there are some Afghans and several Palestinians.

Urgent arrangements were being made to transfer the arrivals to the mainland, where they will be interviewed by immigration authorities and undergo health checks.

Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock said the group included three Indonesian crew and 147 children, some of them older offspring. The boatpeople's arrival prompted Mr Ruddock to warn he had received information more asylum-seekers could be heading towards Australia.

'The information suggests we have not seen the end of it,' he said.

'I wouldn't like to put a precise figure on it, but there were suggestions we will double the number we've seen so far by the end of the month.'

Almost 980 people have arrived on 30 boats this financial year. In 2000-2001, the total number reached 4141 people.

Christmas Island administrator Bill Taylor said a two-year-old girl was taken to hospital after collapsing on the wharf.

'We managed to resuscitate her and she's recovering well in hospital now,' he said.

An adult woman and a man were also being treated in hospital, although their condition was not believed to be serious.

Christmas Island, 1400km from the West Australian coast, is a regular landing point for illegal immigrants -- but was yesterday only just coping with its largest group of arrivals to date.

'It's going to put a bit of stress and strain on the island for food,' Mr Taylor said.

He said it was unusual to see so many women and children among a group of asylum-seekers.

'Some of them are very young children and women. I am guessing, but a lot of them are perhaps attempting to reunite with spouses who have reached Australia,' he said.

Local resident Phil Oakley spotted the boat early yesterday and said it was very crowded.

'They were certainly packed in there very tightly and a lot of people were below decks,' he said.

'The boat was actually taking in water at the time -- they were fairly desperate to get ashore.'

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