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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Asylum Seekers Drown at Christmas Island

Nearly 100 Iraqi, Kurdish and Iranian asylum seekers were on board a wooden Indonesian fishing boat when it drifted onto jagged cliffs in rough seas and broke up near Christmas Island on Wednesday morning. Thirty people drowned and forty-two were rescued and searches continue for bodies. Indonesian police said yesterday there was no criminal element to the boat wreck and it was not Indonesia's concern. A police spokesman said "The accident occurred in Australian territory so it's not the responsibility of Indonesia to investigate". He added "This was a disaster, not a crime".

Australia has provided funds and expertise to help Indonesia crack down on people smuggling networks but it's obviously not working. During Julia Gillard's recent visit to Indonesia, the President promised her he would get tough with people smugglers. But Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesman Michael Tene said Indonesia had no comment on the loss of life.

Indonesia still has no law to deal with people smugglers. The Indonesian president promised to introduce tough new laws by the end of this year but their parliament has shelved the bill until next year.

The Australian government spends millions of dollars every year and provides personnel in Indonesia to prevent the boats from leaving but Kevin Rudd upset them badly when he threw his weight around and lumbered them with a boatload of Tamils - a debacle that went on for months earlier this year. They didn't like the image of their president dancing to the tune of the Australian Prime Minister over the asylum seeker issue and that opinion still exists today.

Despite all the talk of co-operation, an anonymous Indonesian Naval Officer said the Tamal incident reinforced a long held belief that as far as he and his peers are concerned, they must avoid people smuggling boats at all costs and if they do come across one, they offer them fuel and rice, and send them south.