Three dead as refugee boat runs aground
The Age
Monday 20 August 2001

Three people, two of them children have died in an ill-fated attempt by a boatload of 140 Afghans to reach Australia, Indonesian media reported yesterday.

Abandoned by its crew of people smugglers, the boat ran aground on an Indonesian prison island south of central Java on Friday. The boat was heading for Australia's Christmas Island.

Two of the passengers, one of them a three-year-old child, were still missing after they fell into the sea, while a one-year-old infant died of lack of food, the Pikiran Rakyat daily said.

The tragedy happened two days after 348 men, women and children arrived on Christmas Island in a wooden fishing boat on Wednesday. RAAF transport planes yesterday mounted a shuttle operation to move more than 230 of the asylum seekers to Port Hedland, to ease the strain on Christmas Island.

But Federal Police said yesterday that the tide of illegal immigrants arriving by boat from Indonesia had remained stable in the past year due to increased law enforcement efforts.

AFP Commissioner Mick Kelty said the number of "boat people" arriving in Australia had been kept to an average of between 4000 and 5000 over the past two years. Up to 4000 people had been stopped from entering Australia in the past year due to a crackdown on people smuggling in Indonesia.

Of 100 million people attempting to migrate around the world each year, about four million try to do so illegally. Since January this year, 2834 asylum seekers have arrived illegally in Australia, with most coming via Indonesia.

Commissioner Kelty said the AFP, which has responsibility for investigations into international people-smuggling rackets, had increased its presence in Jakarta, Bangkok, Manila and Islamabad in an attempt to increase intelligence sharing.

Commissioner Kelty said the problem of illegal immigrants was new to Australia because, unlike countries such as in America and Europe, Australia did not have land borders and the only way for people to enter was by air or sea.

He said people smugglers, who were often also involved in international drug syndicates, could charge up to $US30,000 ($A57,000) to bring a family of four to Australia on a leaky boat.

The Federal Government is pushing for tougher laws governing refugee applications by illegal immigrants. Proposed legislation is being reviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and the government is hoping to introduce it to Parliament by the end of September.

Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley said yesterday that Australia needed broader protection efforts and deterrents in the form of an Australian coastguard.


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