Australia says boat with 67 asylum seekers is missing
Group has not been heard from since setting off from Indonesia for Christmas Island, home affairs minister says
Associated Press in Canberra
- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 14 August 2012 07.41 BST
Australian authorities hold grave fears for 67 asylum seekers missing at sea as the country moves to resume the practice of deporting people to other countries if they arrive by boat looking for refugee status.
Australian customs was alerted over the weekend that the 67 had not been heard from since telling relatives they would embark on the 250-mile voyage from Indonesia to Christmas Island in late June or early July, said the home affairs minister, Jason Clare.
“There is no evidence that those people have arrived in Australia,” Clare told reporters. “So we now have very grave fears for the safety of those people.”
More than 90 asylum seekers are believed to have drowned in June when two boats capsized in the space of a week while attempting the same journey in rough seas. Another 240 were rescued and taken to a detention centre on Christmas Island.
The Australian government plans to deter future arrivals by deporting newasylum seekers who arrive by boat to Nauru or to Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island. They would be held in tent camps for as long as they would have spent in refugee camps if they had not paid people smugglers to take them to Australia. The government has not said how long that period would be.
The plan came a step closer when the conservative opposition leader, Tony Abbott, announced that his coalition would support enabling legislation when it went to a vote in parliament on Tuesday. His support ensures the legislation can pass the Senate this week without the votes of the Greens party, a key government ally which has condemned the deportation ofrefugees as cruel.
Clare said a temporary detention camp on Nauru, established by a previous administration and scrapped in 2008 when Labor first came to power, would be opened “within weeks rather than months”. The camp at Papua New Guinea, which Labor also scrapped in 2008 because it was regarded as cruel and a waste of money, would be opened “as soon as possible”.
A surge in boat arrivals and the deaths of more than 600 asylum seekers at sea in the past three years has prompted a tougher government attitude.
More than 7,600 asylum seekers, many from war-hit countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka, have reached Christmas Island in more than 100 boats so far this year.
The Nauru president, Sprent Dabwido, said in a statement he was committed to working with Australia to process asylum seekers as soon as is practicable. Australia also has to negotiate an agreement with Papua New Guinea.