Monthly Archives: June 2013

13 dead as people-smuggling boat sinks off Australia

Source nydailynews, 9 June

A people smuggling boat, likely carrying people from either Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Iraq or Afghanistan, sank killing at least 13 people. Planes and ships were scouring the seas of Australia in search of survivors.

Planes, merchant and navy ships were scouring seas off Australia on Sunday in a major search operation after a people-smuggling boat carrying 55 men, women and children sank, with 13 confirmed dead.

The boat was last seen 28 nautical miles northwest of Australia’s remote Christmas Island on Wednesday but then vanished.

Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said a full-scale search involving 15 ships and 10 aircraft was under way.

The navy vessel HMAS Warramunga had been sent to intercept the boat on Thursday but it had disappeared. Aerial searches turned up no sign until Friday, when Clare said a "submerged hull" was seen from the air.

The rescue effort is concentrating on an area of debris including wood and life jackets 74 miles west of the island, which is closer to Indonesia than Australia’s mainland.

When the drifting boat was first spotted by a border protection aircraft on Wednesday, Clare said officials "identified approximately 55 people on the deck of the vessel, mostly adult men but also a small number of women and children".

There was no immediate information about the passengers’ nationality, but Myanmar, Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka are the most common source countries for asylum-seekers arriving in Australia via people-smuggling boats from Indonesia.

"Thirteen bodies have been sighted and the search for survivors continues," Clare told reporters.

"This is another terrible tragedy, another terrible reminder how dangerous these journeys are."

The Warramunga arrived on site to find wood and life jackets floating, with the first body sighted late on Friday and another 12 found by Sunday morning.

Rear Admiral David Johnston, head of border protection, said the "complex and time-consuming" task of recovering bodies would not begin until the search for survivors was exhausted.

"We believe from (medical) advice that we are still in the window where survivability is possible," Johnston said.

Johnston said sea conditions had been favorable and when the vessel was initially sighted on Wednesday "nothing about (the passengers’) demeanor suggested that this boat was in distress".

He added that Indonesia’s maritime authority Basarnas was "certainly aware of the incident" but was caught up with a number of other vessels closer to the Indonesian coastline.

HMAS Warramunga had also been diverted to assist another suspected people-smuggling boat off Christmas Island, which issued a distress call to Australian police overnight, Clare said.

Australia is struggling with a record influx of asylum-seekers arriving by boat, with numbers expected to top 25,000 in the 12 months to June 30 despite punitive "no advantage" policies banishing refugees to the remote Pacific.

Hundreds of refugees have died in asylum-seeker boat accidents on the perilous sea journey in recent years, the latest in March when a boat carrying 95 capsized, killing two people including a small child.

Another vessel disappeared without a trace in the Sunda Strait in April with 72 on board and there were fears of a further sinking in May when 28 life jackets washed up on the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean.

Even as the search unfolded Sunday the government reported the arrival of three more boats carrying 275 people.

It is a sensitive political issue expected to dominate the campaign ahead of September’s national elections, with the conservative opposition promising tough new measures including towing people-smuggling boats out of Australian waters.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr said Indonesia would never agree to the opposition’s tow-back plan, describing it as a "fantasy".

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UNHCR: No refugees involved in recent cases of Myanmar group violence

Source thestar, 8 June

PETALING JAYA: The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Malaysia said they have no evidence that their document-holders have been involved in the recent cases of violence between Myanmarese ethnic groups in Klang Valley.

“All refugees and asylum-seekers are expected to respect the national laws of the countries in which they seek asylum,” said UNHCR spokesperson Yante Ismail.

Yante said it would expect refugees or asylum-seekers who allegedly committed crimes in Malaysia to undergo due process under law, and not be deported to a country where their lives or freedom may be at risk.

Seven clashes were reported involving Myanmar nationals in Kuala Lumpur and parts of Selangor between May 30 and June 4.

Two Myanmar nationals were killed while two others are in critical condition.

The violence is linked to recent clashes in Myanmar between Buddhists and ethnic Muslim Rohingyas in the Rakhine state.

Yante added that the authorities have released those holding UNHCR documents whose status was verified by their staff.

Several refugees met outside the UNHCR headquarters in Kuala Lumpur were aware of the violence, although they claimed that they had not been affected.

One refugee, who wanted to be known as Shu, said life continued as normal although he had heard of the violence.

"I have done nothing wrong and have no reason to be afraid,” he said.

Another refugee, Robert from the Chin state, urged all parties to stay calm.

“People don’t know the facts there but are bringing the problem over here. It also causes problems for Malaysians.

“How can we attain peace if you don’t talk to one another,” said the 23-year-old restaurant worker.

As of April this year, there were 94,760 refugees and asylum-seekers from Myanmar registered with UNHCR.

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