The Refugee Action Coalition released the statement below on August 30.
The Refugee Action Coalition has renewed its call for a full independent inquiry into Australia’s response to safety-of-life-at-sea (SOLAS) situations involving asylum boats.
The latest boat tragedy may have cost the lives of 140 or more people. This is the second time in three months in which the delayed responses of Australian authorities have cost lives. In June, 90 asylum seekers were drowned despite calls to Australian authorities over a period of 40 hours.
“We were told in June that this wouldn’t happen again. There is meant to be an agreement in place to coordinate rescue operations so this does not happen. This is yet another tragedy that may have been avoided had Australian authorities responded properly,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“Australian authorities seem to have known about the boat at the same time the distress call went to the Indonesians, around 10am (AEST) yesterday, but left responsibility to the notoriously ill-equipped Indonesian search and rescue authority, Basarnas. Australian authorities were concerned enough to issue a call to commercial shipping in the region, but not concerned to initiate rescue arrangements.
“Home Affairs [minister] Jason Clare has to stop playing politics with asylum seekers’ lives and actually do something to ensure no more lives are lost.
“After the boat sinking in June, the government announced a new arrangement with Indonesia to allow Australian authorities to respond to distress calls in Indonesia waters. It is clear that nothing short of a full independent judicial inquiry is needed to get to the bottom of what protocols are actually in place to stop this needless loss of life.
“The tragedy of [John] Howard’s Pacific Solution is being repeated. Three hundred and fifty three lives were lost when the SIEV X sank in the first months after the Howard government declared the Pacific Solution in August 2001.
“Now the Pacific Solution 2.0 is costing more lives. Desperate asylum seekers will still need to get boats if it is the only way to gain permanent protection. Nauru offers the hope of ultimate protection in Australia, in a way that staying in Indonesia does not.
“The government should scrap its Pacific Solution and get on with providing safe alternatives for asylum seekers to gain protection in Australia.
“The government announced an extra 400 UNHCR refugees would be taken from Indonesia, but the Merak Tamils who have been waiting since 2009 have heard nothing from the UNHCR or the Australian embassy despite being told Australia would help re-settle them.
"Twenty-seven were told in January that they had been accepted by Australia, but seven months later nothing has progressed.”