Monday, 9 December 2013

Missing Rohingya asylum seekers found on Christmas Island

Source SMH, 5 Dec

Authorities will investigate how 27 asylum seekers evaded detection to land on Christmas Island, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says.

The group is believed to have reached the island late on Monday or early on Tuesday. The Australian Customs and Border Protection Service was informed of their presence about 2.40pm on Thursday.

Scott Morrison giving a briefing in Sydney.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison. Photo: Tamara Dean.

They told authorities their boat sank, and are believed to have spent three days camped out on a beach unnoticed, eating crabs and coconuts to survive.


All 27 people on the boat had been accounted for after a search by Australian Federal Police, Mr Morrison told reporters at his weekly Operation Sovereign Borders press briefing on Friday.

One man was in hospital with minor injuries.

Dolly Beach

Dolly Beach: where the asylum seekers had been camping. Photo: Supplied

''This has been an unusual incident that raises a number of questions that will be the subject of a standard post-incident operational assessment to ensure that any lessons learnt from this incident are incorporated into future practice,'' Mr Morrison said.

''We should never forget that this is a very big ocean in that vicinity. These are very small vessels.''

Asked how the vessel managed to reach the island undetected, Operation Sovereign Borders Commander Lieutenant-General Angus Campbell also mentioned the size of the ocean and the "very small wooden craft".

"We do have radar capability on both our vessels and at Christmas Island. But depending on the nature of the general weather conditions and the sea swell, the size of the craft, it is possible but rare to see these sorts of incidents arise," General Campbell said.

He has directed the commander of Border Protection Command "to undertake an assessment of our procedures, disposition and capabilities to mitigate where possible such surprises".

Australian federal police had searched heavy jungle on Christmas Island on Friday for a group of 8 missing asylum seekers after initially finding the remainder of the group.

The asylum seekers are believed to have camped undetected on the beach after their boat sank off Christmas Island.

The asylum seeker boat is believed to be one of four boats to have arrived at the island in the past five days.

Christmas Island councillor Gordon Thomson said two vessels arrived in the past 24 hours, while another carrying about 30 passengers was intercepted off Christmas Island on Sunday.

The 27 Rohingya asylum seekers are believed to have spent three days camped out on a Christmas Island beach unnoticed, eating crabs and coconuts to survive.

A spokesman for Immigration minister Scott Morrison said no passengers on the boat "are believed to have been lost at sea".

Of the group, 19 were initially accounted for by the Immigration Minister's spokesman in a rare press release issued about midnight on Thursday.

Eight people including two crew are housed at the Phosphate Hill facility in the care of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, the spokesman said. One person is in the Christmas Island Hospital in a stable condition "after sustaining minor injuries" and five "are currently being escorted by AFP officers for transfer to the Phosphate Hill facility".

"A further nine other persons are believed to be in heavy jungle approximately 50 minutes' walk away from the nearest road," the Immigration Minister's spokesman had said.

Christmas Island councillor Mr Thomson said the asylum seekers had been camping on Dolly Beach for three days.

"They walked [out] along a very steep track for about six kilometres. They found themselves on one of our main roads where they were seen and police and custom officers scrambled to pick them up."

Thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim minority group in Myanmar, have fled persecution and oppression since last year.

Labor's immigration spokesman Richard Marles said the government was failing to uphold its promise to bring the "discipline and focus of a targeted military operation" to the asylum seeker issue.

"The question today is with all of that focus and discipline how is it possible that a boat arrived on Christmas Island without detection?" Mr Marles said.

"How is it possible that asylum seekers could be on Christmas Island since Monday without the government knowing about it?

"What is clear is the government is not in control."

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