Campers help to catch boatpeople

Debbie Guest
November 29, 2008
The Australian

CAMPERS on Western Australia's remote north coast have played a pivotal role in the detection of 12 suspected Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

The group of seven were camping at False Entrance, near Shark Bay, 800km north of Perth, when they spotted a small wooden boat just off the coast on Thursday.

It is the first time suspected asylum seekers have sailed so far down the coast of Western Australia. Chinese asylum seekers have made it further south on the east coast when they reached Scotts Head in NSW in 1999.

Two of the 12 men swam to shore with the help of floatation devices, and they asked the campers how they could reach themainland.

"They said they were shark fishermen and then trochus shell fishermen," Steep Point ranger Paul Dickenson said.

"Only two came to shore -- they couldn't swim and used floats, and had a rope tied around them attached to the boat. It was a typical refugee boat -- I wouldn't like to travel on it in the open sea."

The campers told Mr Dickenson that the two men spoke English and said they were Sri Lankan.

Mr Dickenson said there was no evidence of fishing equipment on board.

After telling the men the safest point to land was at nearby South Passage, the campers rang the police, who informed Customs.

Customs officers met the boat and escorted it to sheltered waters, where it was anchored overnight on Thursday. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said early indications were that the group might be from Sri Lanka, but it was not known whether they were asylum seekers.

"The intentions of the people on board have not yet been determined, but they do not appear to be fishers," Senator Evans said.

The group will be transferred to Christmas Island, where they will be detained and processed.

Senator Evans said that if any of them made claims for asylum, they would have access to onshore protection processes and review procedures.

Senator Evans said early advice indicated none of the 12 had health problems.

The group is the fourth to make it to Australian waters since the Rudd Government's overhaul of the mandatory detention system.

Opposition immigration spokeswoman Sharman Stone said the boat's arrival was evidence that Labor's border regime was failing.


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