Monthly Archives: September 2013

Boatpeople land at Christmas Island after new navy rescue

September 30, 2013


A NEW group of asylum-seekers has been offloaded at Christmas Island after being plucked from the ocean by naval vessels.

Around 80 men, women and children disembarked from HMAS Maryborough and HMAS Armidale between 7.30am and 10am local time (9.30am and noon AEST).

Border Protection Command later said 78 asylum-seekers had arrived at Christmas Island, but provided no further details.

Those on board were issued with a Search And Rescue number from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, indicating they were the subject of a coordinated response. The Australian has been told the asylum-seekers, who appeared Iranian, were transferred into two navy vessels for safety reasons.

Today’s arrivals follow the interception of three boatloads of suspected asylum-seekers in the past week, with 128 people sent for offshore processing.

The first vessel was detected last Tuesday carrying 18 people from India, who are being interviewed in Darwin, Operation Sovereign Borders acting commander Air Marshall Mark Binskin told reporters.

The group is expected to be returned to India.

Seven West Papuans were dropped off on an Australian island in the Torres Strait last Wednesday.

“All seven persons were returned to Papua New Guinea on Thursday,” Air Marshall Binskin said.

Last Thursday, 70 people from a third boat were transferred to detention on Christmas Island.

Air Marshall Binskin was giving an update on border protection operations on Monday where he said 128 asylum seekers had been transferred to offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru during the week.

In addition, Australian naval vessels also went to the aid late last week of two vessels carrying a total of 75 boatpeople, who were returned to Indonesia.

The new arrivals also follow the sinking of a boat in Indonesian waters on Friday, killing at least 36 people and leaving dozens more missing.

Indonesian authorities are now conceding the search operation is about recovering the dead rather than finding anyone else alive.

Four more bodies, including those of two children, were found today, bringing the toll to 36 dead. Authorities say more than 20 people are missing, feared drowned.

Just 28 asylum seekers have been found alive since the boat, which was carrying about 80 people from Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq, broke apart near a beach in the district of Agrabinta in West Java on Friday morning.

The Lebanese foreign ministry has confirmed there were 68 Lebanese, including children, on board the ill-fated vessel.

The latest tragedy in waters between Indonesia and Australia is the first known fatal attempted crossing under the Coalition government

Tony Abbott is under pressure at home to stem the flood of asylum-seekers as he heads to Indonesia for talks with President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono which appear set to be dominated by migration issues.

DOWNER: End Jakarta asylum row

Indonesia has expressed concern over Mr Abbott’s “tow-back” plan, which involves the Australian navy intercepting and forcing back Indonesian fishing boats crowded with asylum seekers.

The Prime Minister is expected to meet with Mr Yudhoyono later today.

Additional reporting: AAP



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Asylum seeker boat sank 50 metres off Indonesian shore, survivors say

September 29, 2013

The asylum seeker boat before it sank.

The asylum seeker boat before it sank.

About 50 people are either missing or dead, 30 of them understood to be children, after the boat sank off Agrabinta, a remote area of the coast off the Cianjur region of west Java, after it got into trouble on Thursday.

Survivors say they rang Australian authorities for help on Thursday when both the boat’s engines broke during the voyage.

They say they tried to fix the engines but failed.

Eventually, the motor pumping water off the boat ran out of petrol and the boat started taking on water, asylum seekers say.

We called the Australian Government for 24 hours, they were telling us ‘we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming,’ and they didn’t come.

Shipwreck survivor


They then hit rough seas and capsized only 50 metres from the shore.

At least 28 asylum seekers have been found alive, but local authorities fear about 80 people were on the boat.

Survivor Abdullah Al Qisi says that as the boat broke up, only those who could swim made it to the shore alive.

After the sinking the beach was littered with broken pieces of the boat and the bodies of about 21 people, including many children.

One survivor told ABC News he had lost his whole family because Australian rescuers did not come when they phoned a day before the sinking.

“We called the Australian Government for 24 hours, they were telling us ‘we’re coming, we’re coming, we’re coming,’ and they didn’t come,” he said.

“We sent them the position on the GPS, exactly where are we, and we drowned and nobody came.

“This is because of the Australian Government. I want them to know that.”

Search operations were hindered because Indonesian rescue authorities do not have the capability to search during the night or in big seas.

Continuing large ocean swells meant rescue efforts were again delayed on Saturday.

The search is expected to begin properly today.

Mother and seven children among dead

Lebanese community leaders in Melbourne say a mother and her seven children are among those who drowned in the sinking.

Community leader Milad Bardan said about 40 Lebanese asylum seekers drowned or are missing, including Kawthar Taleb and her seven children.


Ms Taleb’s husband, Hussein Ahmad Khoder, swam to safety. Her sister, Raya, and her husband and three children also died.

Mr Bardan said the 40 victims are all from the same area in Lebanon’s north, where people-smugglers are targeting locals looking to flee the violence spilling over the border from Syria.

“Unless Syria settles down, more will come, definitely,” he said.

He said more asylum seekers from northern Lebanon are already en route to Australia, having paid people-smugglers about $20,000 each, and that the community is worried that more could perish at sea.

Relatives of those drowned and missing are gathering in Melbourne today to mourn.

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Filed under Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, Boat Tragedy

Java tragedy survivors claim Australian authorities ignored plight

September 28, 2013

Residents help survivors of the boat that sank off the coastal village of Cianjur in Java. Photograph: AFP

Residents help survivors of the boat that sank off the coastal village of Cianjur in Java. Photograph: AFP

Survivors of a boat that sank off Java claim the Australian embassy ignored a distress call. Twenty-two asylum seekers have been confirmed as drowned but authorities in Indonesia fear that number may rise to more than 70.

“I called the Australian embassy; for 24 hours we were calling them. They told us just send us the position on GPS, where are you,” one survivor, Abdullah, a man from Jordan, was reported as saying by Fairfax media. “We did, and they told us, ‘OK, we know … where you are’. And they said, ‘We’ll come for you in two hours’.

“And we wait two hours; we wait 24 hours, and we kept calling them, ‘we don’t have food, we don’t have water for three days, we have children, just rescue us’. And nobody come. Sixty person dead now because of Australian government.”

One of the passengers, a Lebanese man, had reportedly lost his pregnant wife and eight children in the disaster.

Just 25 of those aboard had been rescued before efforts to locate survivors were postponed on Friday evening due to failing light.

It’s believed to be the first fatal attempted asylum-seeker crossing under the Abbott government, and comes after another group of 44 asylum seekers were rescued by an Australian navy vessel in the Sunda Strait on Thursday.

The boat that sank on Friday had departed from the fishing village of Pelabuhan Ratu, in the Sukabumi regency, on the south coast of western Java. It first got into trouble about 10 hours into its journey and efforts were made to return to Indonesia before it sank.

A police official from the district of Cianjur in Java said authorities were alerted to the incident after bodies were discovered floating in an estuary on Friday morning.

“We have now found 22 dead bodies, most of them are children as they cannot swim,” the official said, according to news agency AFP. He said the boat had broken into several pieces.

A spokesman for the Indonesian search and rescue agency, Basarnas, said his office was not advised of an incident involving an asylum seeker boat until 3pm local time on Friday.

He said the Australian Maritime and Safety Authority had contacted Basarnas about the boat.

The latest tragedy in waters between Indonesia and Australia comes amid a ramping up in tensions between Canberra and Jakarta over the asylum seeker issue, and days ahead of talks in Jakarta between Tony Abbott, and the Indonesian president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Abbott and Yudhoyno will meet on Monday, with asylum seeker policy expected to be at the top of the agenda.

Strong waves are preventing Indonesian rescuers from continuing the search for survivors on Saturday morning.

“The waves are just too high for our speed boats to go out yet. They’re four to six metres. We hope conditions improve soon,” Warsono, a police official in Cianjur district on Java, told AFP, adding no helicopter had been deployed.


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Filed under Asylum Seekers in Indonesia, Australian Government and Opposition, Boat Intercepted

Dozens dead as Australia bound asylum seeker boat sinks off Indonesia

September 27, 2013


A section of the boat’s hull washed up on the south coast of west Java. The beach is strewn with debris from the boat.
ABC News: George Roberts

As many as 50 people are feared dead after a boat loaded with asylum seekers sank off the south coast of west Java.

Indonesian rescue authorities, speaking on the basis of information provided by local police, say 22 bodies and 25 survivors have been found.

As many as 30 are still feared missing and without the capability to search at night, or in big seas, there was little hope of them being found before day break.

Rescue operations were then hindered this morning due to big seas.

The boat sank in big waves off Argabinta, a remote area of coast off the Cianjur region of west Java.

The survivors were taken to a local Islamic school, or pesantren, for shelter but it is expected they will be moved to an immigration detention facility today.


The dead bodies were to be taken to a local health centre but it is too small to house them.

The tragedy comes as a diplomatic row continues to simmer over Australia’s plans to turn back asylum boats.

Meanwhile, Australian authorities are set to return a second group of asylum seekers to Indonesia today after rescuing them at sea.

The Australian Customs ship, ACV Triton, had been given permission to enter Indonesian waters to offload 31 rescued asylum seekers.

It will be the second time in two days that Australian rescue authorities have returned asylum seekers to Indonesia.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) told its Indonesian equivalent Basarnas the “preference is for a transfer at sea” to Indonesian authorities.

Source: / AFP

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Fears minors sent offshore alone

September 26, 2013

Christmas Island Dention Centre

The case of the 16-year-old Somali boy found hanging in a bathroom on Christmas Island last month has sparked two government inquiries and prompted refugee rights campaigners to try to intervene. Picture: Colin Murty Source: Herald Sun

REFUGEE advocates are pleading with the federal government not to send a mentally ill Somali boy to Nauru or Manus Island, as speculation builds the Coalition may have secretly flown children to foreign detention compounds without parents or guardians.

The case of the 16-year-old Somali boy found hanging in a bathroom on Christmas Island last month has sparked two government inquiries and prompted refugee rights campaigners to try to intervene.

They fear the boy, who spent almost a month in Perth hospitals after he was cut down in a medical emergency on August 25, may be flown offshore as part of the Papua New Guinea Solution, which was started by Kevin Rudd and continued by the Coalition.

He was among a group of unaccompanied minors held in detention on Christmas Island.

Those asylum-seekers are considered especially vulnerable because they came by boat without a parent or guardian.

In legal terms, the Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison, is their guardian.

The policy of both the former Labor government and the Coalition was to send all groups of people offshore, including families and unaccompanied minors, so as not to create an incentive for some people to travel.

When the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders began last week, accompanied by a media blackout, no unaccompanied minors had been sent to Nauru or Manus Island.

But yesterday on Nauru, resident Clint Deidenang claimed to have seen what appeared to be unaccompanied minors getting off a plane from Christmas Island and on to a bus for detention.

“There were kids with their parents all together in little groups but there was also teenagers walking alone, one by one,” he said. “They seemed to be unaccompanied minors.”

One refugee advocate told The Australian that unaccompanied minors on Christmas Island were visited on Tuesday night by immigration officials who told them to prepare for transfer to Nauru “within 40 hours”.

Refugee Council of Australia board member Judyth Watson said it was wrong for any immigration minister to be the nominated guardian for unaccompanied minors. “Scott Morrison is the children’s jailer as well as their guardian, it’s a hopeless conflict,” she said.

Dr Watson said the sad story of the troubled Somali boy deeply concerned her.

“He is so vulnerable, he is alone and he needs advocates,” she said.

Mr Morrison’s office did not respond when The Australian asked him to confirm whether the first unaccompanied minors had arrived in Nauru yesterday.

On Christmas Island, administrator Jon Stanhope has praised hospital staff for their actions during the emergency involving the boy and said they saved his life.

The island’s hospital staff frequently treat detainees and, across many years, have dealt with traumatised asylum-seekers.

“As a consequence of this unfortunate event there will, as a matter of routine, be a full inquiry conducted by (the Department of Immigration and Border Protection) and the (Indian Ocean Territories Health Service) into all aspects of the circumstances of the attempted suicide,” Mr Stanhope said in a newsletter.




Filed under Asylum Policy, PNG/Pacific Solution

Scott Morrison says Government won’t reveal when asylum seekers boats turned back

September 24, 2013

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison says the Government does not plan to publicly reveal when or if any asylum seeker boats are turned around – a measure that is a key plank of the Coalition’s border protection policy.

The Coalition’s measures, Operation Sovereign Borders, began last week and Mr Morrison and its commander Angus Campbell held the first weekly media briefing on Monday.

The Minister says the Government will announce how many boats arrive and the numbers of asylum seekers at the briefings, but there will be no information about whether boats are turned around.

“That goes to operational matters that, whether they affect current or future operational activity, you will not be getting commentary from this podium or that podium either way on those matters,” Mr Morrison said.

“We want to make it crystal clear: operational and tactical issues that relate to current and prospective operations… will not be the subject of public commentary from these podiums.

“We will tell you what vessels have arrived and have gone into the care of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

“Those updates will be provided as well as transfers and other key policy decisions and announcements and implementation issues regarding this policy, but we are not getting into the tactical discussion of things that happen at sea.”

Under the Howard government’s Operation Relex, four asylum seeker boats were turned back to Indonesia.

Acting Opposition Leader Chris Bowen says the Government has “no excuse” not to tell the public if boats are intercepted and turned around.

“Turning back the boats has been a centrepiece of Coalition policy now for a long time,” he said.

What is Operation Sovereign Borders?

  • A military-led operation headed by the Deputy Chief of Army, Angus Campbell.
  • The policy allows for boats to be turned back to their country of origin.
  • Refugees will be processed offshore at Nauru and PNG’s Manus Island.
  • Temporary protection visas (TPV) have been reintroduced.
  • The Government will deny refugee status to those believed to have destroyed their documentation.
  • There are 12 departments that fall under the operation.


“They’ve told us at every opportunity that they would turn back boats where it was safe to do so.

“Now we’re seeing Mr Morrison saying we may or may not tell you if we’ve ever turned a boat back.

“This lack of transparency is completely unacceptable.”

Lieutenant General Campbell has advised the Government to hold “periodic” media briefings on asylum seeker matters “to prevent the potential for messaging to people smugglers with regards to changes to procedures or our tactical activities that might evolve over time”.

Mr Morrison says the intention is not to “keep a lid” on asylum seeker matters.

“This is an open briefing process but there are obvious limitations to what can be discussed in these forums for the protection and safety of the people who are doing our service for our nation,” he said.

He said there may be specific briefings if a boat was involved in an accident or somebody went overboard.

“If there are significant incidents that occur, then obviously a decision will be taken at that time as to what briefing will be provided,” the Minister said.

The Coalition’s policy, released in July, promises that an Abbott Government would instruct the Defence Force to “turn back boats where it is safe to do so” and to intercept “all identified vessels travelling from Sri Lanka outside our sea border”.

Morrison sets 48-hour transfer target

The Government has also announced that it is pushing ahead with its plans to expand offshore processing facilities on Nauru and Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island.

It has also cancelled plans to build a centre in Singleton in the NSW Hunter Valley, and is in the process of transferring $58 million in funding to offshore centres instead.

People who arrive by boat will also be subject to a new target of transferring them overseas within 48 hours.

Mr Morrison says once asylum seekers are deemed fit to fly, they will be sent to Nauru or Manus Island for further health checks and full processing.

“You won’t be settling in on Christmas Island if you come on a boat,” he said.

“You will find yourself very quickly and rapidly transferred by air to one of the offshore processing centres.”

But Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young says the plan could cost lives because 48 hours is not enough time to do proper medical checks.

“If we haven’t worked out whether a child is asthmatic, if we haven’t worked out whether a child has a particular health concern, we are effectively dumping that child in the middle of a deserted island with no appropriate medical assistance,” she said.

“That’s not humane.”

Hundreds already sent offshore

Earlier on Monday, Mr Morrison said hundreds of asylum seekers who had arrived by boat since the election had already been transferred.

In the past two weeks, 523 people have arrived by boat and claimed asylum in Australia.

Mr Morrison says around half of those have already left Australia’s shores for processing on either Manus Island or Nauru.

Previously the process of carrying out health and security checks has taken several weeks.

The Minister also revealed the Rudd-Gillard government had not funded its offshore processing operations on Manus Island beyond this year.

“There is not currently $1 that the previous government put in place for operations – operational funding for offshore processing at Manus Island,” he said.

“Not $1 did they fund it beyond the first of January, so that’s one of the early nasty surprises that we’ve had to deal with.”

Mr Morrison said the Abbott Government would “make sure that’s addressed” but added there was “an enormous amount of work to do to salvage that arrangement”.


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Vietnamese asylum seekers ‘set for deportation’

September 23, 2013

Critics brand new detention centre

Critics brand new detention centre

A group of Vietnamese asylum seekers is set to be deported from Darwin, a local asylum seeker support group has said.

It follows revelations last month that the Immigration Department had allowed Vietnamese officials into Darwin immigration detention centres to question people.

The Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) said there was a group of about 20 Vietnamese people at the Wickham Point Detention Centre.

It said the group was questioned by Vietnamese police for several hours last month, and some were accused of treason.

DASSAN spokesman Rohan Thwaites said they had now been told by Immigration that they were not allowed to apply for asylum.

“Several people from the Wickham Point Immigration Detention Centre in Darwin have indicated that the Department of Immigration has told them that they can be returned to Vietnam against their will with 72 hours’ notice,” Mr Thwaites said.

“And they believe that 72 hours may start today.”

Last month Immigration confirmed the delegation of Vietnamese officials was helping to identify people in detention centres in Perth and Darwin.


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Filed under Deportation