Asylum seekers vow to keep on trying

01:27, Jul 25 2013
asylum seekers
RESCUED: A police officer carries an unconscious child who was on the boat that capsized after hitting a reef off Indonesia.

Survivors of another asylum seeker boat sinking say Australia's new hardline stance against people smugglers will not dissuade them from trying to enter the country.

Eight people drowned when a boat carrying more than 100 asylum seekers sank off West Java, including three children. Police said they rescued 122 people from the wreckage of the wooden boat, and another 38 swam to nearby land.

Several of those who survived say that Australia's new position on asylum seeker processing would not deter them.

One Sri Lankan, Kajendran, said  that Papua New Guinea - where asylum seekers are soon to be sent under a radical expansion of the Manus Island processing centre - was ''OK, no problem''.

''But for me any country in the world is better than going back to Sri Lanka. I can't go back to Sri Lanka,'' the 28-year-old said, adding that he did not think the Australian government's new policy would change anything.

''People will keep trying to go to Australia,'' he said. ''People like me who can't go back to our country, they'll keep trying.''

Others suggested they may continue to seek asylum in Australia later in the year. Kajendran added that when the waves lessened, expected in September, he may try the journey again.

But another, 27-year-old Sri Lankan Ahmad Nazir, said he would not try the journey again because he did not want to risk his life.

He described the wooden ship the group travelled on as being ''old and broke everywhere''.

''It's cheating, the agent cheated us,'' he said. ''The agent said it was [a] big passenger ship and that [the] Indonesian navy would guard it to the border with Australia, so it's safe.

''But when I saw that big old ship, maybe it's 100 years old, I know they cheated us.''

He said there were not enough life jackets for all on board.

''I don't swim and was just holding on a piece of wood. I thought I was about to die after about seven hours in the sea but suddenly there were boats coming rescuing us.

''Many waters came into the ship. We tried to remove the waters but it didn't help. Some peopled then decided to leave the ship, they jumped and swam to the nearest land.''

Nazir said this was his third attempt at getting onto a boat bound for Australia - the first did not proceed because of stormy conditions and the second was stopped because there were insufficient passengers.

Local police said the boat had sunk and could not be found. A spokesman said that if the passengers had been in the ocean for 10 hours before they were found, as one survivor claimed, the journey would have begun in Jakarta.

The boat, reportedly carrying about 200 asylum seekers, capsized in heavy seas off the fishing village of Cidaun, West Java on Wednesday.

A police spokesman in the Cianjur district of West Java, Achmad, said fishermen had reported the boat in trouble.

Police organised 11 rescue boats but they could not reach the stricken vessel in time.

''We couldn't find the boat,'' Achmad said. ''It sank to the sea. When we found the people, they're in the water - there's no boat. One survivor said they'd been in the sea for 10 hours before we found them.''

The head of the search and rescue operation in West Java, Rochmali, said 156 asylum seekers had been rescued on Wednesday night. ''We will continue to search for as long as conditions allow,'' he said.

The people on the boat were believed to be from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka.

The latest tragedy is the third in two weeks. It follows the death of a baby and several other people in a capsizing 13 days ago. Another four people drowned several days later after an boat carrying about 150 asylum seekers capsized in rough seas off Christmas Island.

An Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman said Australia had offered assistance but the Indonesians had not accepted.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd said the sinking underlined the need for the federal government to change its policy and send a strong signal to deter people from using people smugglers to reach Australia.

''We're seeing too many drownings, we're seeing too many sinkings, we're seeing too many innocent people lost at sea,'' he said.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said Rudd should be ''man enough'' to admit he had ''got it wrong'' when he wound back the Howard-era Pacific Solution in 2008. He said he was not ''crass enough'' to directly blame anyone in Australia for the tragedies at sea.

''The people smugglers bear the responsibility for this,'' he said.

The government, meanwhile, confirmed it had intercepted another boat bound for Christmas Island.

HMAS Bathurst reached the boat west of Christmas Island on Monday. It was carrying 38 passengers and two crew.


Sydney Morning Herald