More than 100 rescued after Australia asylum capsize

  • 20 August 2013
  • From the section Asia
Map of Christmas Island

More than 100 people have been rescued after a boat carrying asylum-seekers capsized off Australia's Christmas Island.

Australian maritime officials said they sent a navy ship after receiving a call for help from the boat.

A total of 106 people were plucked from the water, with two suffering minor injuries, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

Search and rescue operations were continuing, AMSA said.

Election issue

The boat capsized north of Christmas Island, a frequent target of asylum-seekers trying to travel by boat to Australia from nearby Indonesia.

HMAS Parramatta arrived on scene at 12:25 (02:25GMT) and began recovering people from the water, assisted by a merchant vessel, AMSA said.

"As at 3:30pm AEST HMAS Parramatta has reportedly recovered 106 people from the water. Two people are reported to have minor injuries. Search and rescue operations continue," it said.

It was not clear whether any people were believed to be missing.

The Australia government implemented a new asylum policy in July - ahead of a general election in September - in response to a sharp rise in the number of asylum-seekers arriving by boat.

Officials said the move was needed to prevent thousands of people making the dangerous journey to Australia on overcrowded and rickety boats, several of which have sunk in recent years.

Under a deal signed on 19 July, asylum-seekers arriving by boat in Australia will be sent to PNG for processing. Those whose refugee claims are upheld will be settled in PNG, rather than Australia.

But the UN High Commission for Refugees in July called the new policy "troubling", saying it "lacked adequate protection standards and safeguards for asylum seekers and refugees in Papua New Guinea".

Meanwhile, opposition leader Tony Abbott called for a tougher approach on asylum.

He said that if elected he would appoint a military commander to lead operations tackling people smugglers and asylum boats, and that refugees would be limited to receiving temporary visas.

The boat incident comes with Australian officials in Indonesia's capital, Jakarta, at a forum aimed at finding a regional solution to the issue of asylum-seekers.

Australian Immigration Minister Tony Burke is meeting officials from countries including Iran, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to discuss solutions to human trafficking.

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