Rescue was too slow in asylum boat tragedy

June 21, 2012
Photo: Australian Maritime Safety Authority

The search and rescue of some 90 asylum seekers still missing at sea continues after a boat capsized 200 kilometres from Christmas Island on June 21. Sydney's Refugee Action Coalition released the statement below on June 22.

* * *
From the timeline of contacts between Australian authorities and the capsized asylum boat indicated by Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare, it seems that more timely action by the Australian rescue authorities could have averted the latest asylum boat tragedy.
“There is a need for a full inquiry into the information that all Australian authorities had about this boat,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The lack of coordination between Indonesia and Australian rescue authorities is a serious issue hampering rescue operations. Prompt action early Wednesday morning could have saved lives.
“AMSA was in touch with this boat since late Tuesday and was still in touch 36 hours later, when a plane flew over the boat only two hours before it was discovered capsized.
“It is absurd for AMSA authorities to simply advise an asylum boat in distress to turn back to Indonesia. AMSA has far greater capacity and resources to provide rescue support than Indonesia. Australia can have planes over Indonesian waters far quicker than Indonesia can mobilise patrol boats.
“Australian policies are putting asylum seekers at risk. People on the boat know that if they are captured by Indonesian authorities they will detained perhaps indefinitely. I have been contacted by asylum seekers on boats in distress who have pleaded with me not to contact Indonesian authorities.
“Some people have escaped Indonesia detention centres of jails to take their chance for freedom. Others have been waiting years, some already found to be refugees but with no hope of resettlement.
“If the Australian government was willing to process asylum seekers in Indonesia and guarantee that recognised refugees would be re-settled far fewer people would need to get on a boat to get protection. Australia took only 17 UNHCR refugees from Indonesia in the first three months of 2012.
“Merak Tamils whose boat was turned back to Indonesia in October 2009, spent a year in detention, were found to be refugees, yet are still waiting for Australia to resettle them. Asylum seekers have to get boats if they are going to get protection.
“Both Liberal and Labor parties are focussed on violating refugee rights by expelling them to Malaysia nor Nauru rather then putting refugees’ rights to safety and protection at the front of humanitarian policies. Policy change in Australia and Indonesia could save lives.”


They knew TUESDAY the boat was in trouble: they knew Wednesday a disaster was about to unfold when it became apparent the ship did not turn back. They sat back and waited. Would they have done this if it was a wealthy self indulgent yachtsman??

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