Political furore after refugees drown on way to AustraliaNovember 3rd, 2009 - 11:25 am ICT by IANS
Sydney, Nov 3 (DPA) A heated debate broke out in Australia Tuesday over the government’s refugee policy after a boat carrying 39 asylum seekers sank in the Indian Ocean with 12 feared drowned.
Australian rescue planes and vessels raced to the remote site in the Indian Ocean Monday, looking for survivors.
A Taiwanese fishing boat and a Bahamas-registered gas tanker rescued 27 of those on board, believed to be Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka, but despite search planes flying 2,900 km from Australia to reach the search area 650 km from remote Cocos Island, 11 people remain missing. One body was found Tuesday.
A Japanese fishing vessel joined the search as the Taiwanese boat had to leave to refuel.
The maritime tragedy turned into a political wrangle in Canberra when senior conservative opposition frontbencher Tony Abbott blamed Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s border protection policies for the loss of life.
Abbott said the refugees would not be trying to reach Australia in leaky boats if the government had a tougher policy which deterred them from trying to reach Australia.
The boat was sailing towards Australia well out to sea and keeping clear of Indonesian islands where they might be detained.
The Rudd government has signed a deal with Indonesia to take refugees picked up in their waters and keep them in camps until their refugee status is processed.
An Australian customs ship, Oceanic Viking, that rescued 78 Sri Lankan refugees three weeks ago, remains moored off Indonesia. It is caught in a two-week standoff with the asylum seekers on board who refuse to go ashore, and demand to be taken to Australia.
“You look at this terrible tragedy that’s unfolding in the Indian Ocean at the moment and you’ve got to say this is a comprehensive failure and it’s all the prime minister’s fault,” Abbott told a Sydney radio station.
“What’s so moral about policies which encourage people to take to the sea in leaky boats and give us the kind of tragedy that seems to be unfolding now in the Indian Ocean?” Abbott said.
Opinion polls Tuesday showed support for Rudd’s government fell seven points over the past two weeks as stories of boat refugees dominated the news, to 41 percent, putting it level with the opposition which wants a tougher policy of not allowing boat refugees to reach Australian soil.
Rudd said he would not change government policies. “There are many hard decisions before the government,” Rudd said. “I understand that it won’t necessarily be popular. People from the right of politics won’t like it. People from the left of politics won’t like it but my job is to get on with the business of doing it.”
But former liberal prime minister Malcolm Fraser said a hardline policy was inhumane.
“Both parties, the government and opposition seem to be competing as to who can be toughest,” Fraser told ABC Radio.
- Boat with 200 asylum seekers capsizes off Australia - Jun 21, 2012
- Australia says boat carrying 67 asylum seekers is missing - Aug 15, 2012
- Australia intercepts boats carrying more than 300 asylum seekers - May 07, 2012
- Australia to hold elections August 21 - Jul 17, 2010
- 23 killed as boat sinks in Indian Ocean - Nov 02, 2009
- Tamil refugees challenge Oz security intelligence ruling - Oct 02, 2010
- Australia seeks help from Sri Lanka on flow of asylum seekers - Nov 08, 2009
- Indonesia rescues 120 asylum seekers who refuse to disembark - Apr 10, 2012
- Kids cry for help as 27 die in Australia boat capsize (Second Lead) - Dec 15, 2010
- Australians vote in cliff-hanger election (Lead, changing dateline) - Aug 21, 2010
- Sri Lanka navy arrests 54 Australia-bound asylum seekers - Sep 06, 2012
- Australian Government defers processing of Sri Lankan, Afghan asylum claims - Apr 09, 2010
- Seven kids among dead in Australia boat capsize (Lead) - Dec 16, 2010
- New Zealand to consider taking rescued Tamil refugees - Dec 18, 2009
- Australian navy intercepts 119 asylum seekers - Jan 08, 2012
Tags: asylum seekers, australia sydney, australian customs, cocos island, conservative opposition, gas tanker, indonesian islands, kevin rudd, leaky boats, maritime tragedy, oceanic viking, political furore, refugee policy, refugee status, rescue planes, search planes, sydney nov, sydney radio, tamil refugees, tony abbott