Thursday 12 December 2013

Burmese toddler drowns as refugee boat sinks en route to Christmas Island

Source DVB, 10 Dec

Three asylum seekers including a toddler died when their Australia-bound boat sank in rough seas off Indonesia's Java island but 29 others were rescued, police said Tuesday.

Hundreds of asylum seekers have died trying to make the sea voyage to Australia in recent years, and Australian Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the sinking highlighted the dangers of people-smuggling.

The vessel had been carrying 32 people – including members of the Rohingya Muslim minority from Burma, officially known as Myanmar, Iranians and a Bangladeshi – who wanted to reach the Australian territory of Christmas Island, police said.

But the small, wooden vessel sank off West Java province early Monday after being battered by big waves, provincial police spokesman Martinus Sitompul told AFP.

"Fishermen found the boat off Ciawi beach in Garut district," he said.

The Bangladeshi asylum seeker and two from Burma – including a two-year-old – drowned but the other 29 were rescued by the fishermen and handed over to immigration authorities, he said.

Morrison said no request was or had been made for Australian assistance, by either passengers onboard the vessel or the Indonesian authorities involved in the rescue.

"This further loss of life is as tragic as all those that preceded it in similar circumstances, and we extend sympathies to the families of those affected," Morrison said.

"It is especially tragic as these deaths were needless and avoidable."

While Australia would meet its obligations regarding the safety of life at sea, Morrison said that did not mean there was a "safety net" for voyages undertaken on people-smuggling boats.

"This latest incident highlights once again the fatal consequences of people-smuggling, particularly in this most dangerous time of the year," he said, referring to the annual monsoon season.

Asylum-seeker boat arrivals have dropped dramatically under the new conservative government of Prime Minister Tony Abbott, which has retained the policy of the former administration of sending all boatpeople to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for permanent resettlement.

But there has been a recent spike, with close to 200 people arriving on four boats in the week up to December 6.

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