16 April 2012

Australian immigration officials claim lost asylum seekers safe

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Australian immigration authorities claim they have been assured approximately 60 Afghan asylum seekers are safe as Indonesia calls off the search for the lost boat.

Australian immigration

The Australian claims a boat, found off the coast of Lombok, could not have been the Afghan asylum seekers' boat.

Chris Bowen, the Australian immigration minister, has said he has been assured by Indonesian authorities that a boat couldn't have sunk off the coast of the Indonesian island Lombok.

However, The Australian claims a fishing boat found beached on Lombok which has led to the Indonesian and Australian officials' decision could not have been the source of distress calls made on Tuesday evening as it was found empty and waterlogged.

The vessel was found 40km west of the search area and is larger than the missing boat was reported to be.

Indonesian authorities claim Lombok residents saw the asylum seekers disembark from the boat and flee into the island's dense forest:

"Some members of the community reported that they saw foreigners in the jungle around 10 kilometres from the beach where the boat was spotted," said Lombok search and rescue chief Marsudia yet no Afghans have since been found on Lombok.

Yet head of local village Bumbang, Amak Darish, said there was no sign of passengers on the stranded boat:

"Our villages found a half sunk boat on Tuesday night. When it was found by villages, there were no passengers found, only the half sunk boat; the bottom of the hull had leaked.

"We haven't seen any strangers and we haven't heard of anybody being captured by police, said Mr Darish.

Australian and Indonesian officials have struggled to police the waters between the two countries as thousands of asylum seekers attempt to claim refugee status in Australia every year and, while the problem continues to attract intense media scrutiny, fresh disaster has thus far been avoided.

Last December, a boat carrying 250 asylum seekers, mostly Afghan and Iranians, sank in Indonesian waters, 203 people died.

Mr Bowen said he was confident the Afghans onboard the lost boat were safe but warned against the dangers of attempting the trip:

"Asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat face very real risks and we need to work together now to prevent another tragedy from occurring."

A relative of one of the asylum seekers told The Australian he had spoken to the passengers by mobile to confirm they were safe and they had since secured another boat from the same people smuggler and were bound for Australia once more.

However, Ian Rintoul, a Brisbane based refugee activist who raised the original alarm after also speaking to the passengers by mobile, said he was 'reasonably certain' the passengers were safe but had received no confirmation.

"We haven't had any communication from the missing boat since Friday," said Mr Rintoul.

"Normally we would continue to get calls from relatives of people on board the boat and that's stopped."

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