A tragic day in Australia

Posted by Katie DeRosa on Thursday, August 30, 2012
The day I arrived in Australia, the top item on every news station, radio program and newspaper was the desperate search for a boat loaded with asylum seekers that had sunk off the coast of Java, after leaving from Indonesia. As of Friday morning, only 55 people had been rescued from the ocean, out of the 150 men, women and children believed to be on the boat. The boat made the first distress call on Wednesday morning. The Indonesian search and rescue authority, Basarnas, initially responded with boats and helicopters, but the Australian military and several merchant ships took over the effort when Basarnas called off their search. 

It's these tragic deaths at sea the Australian government is struggling to prevent. Since October 2009, 604 people have died at sea en route to Australia. 

An independent review led by former chief of defence staff Angus Houston, released Aug. 13, recommended a return to offshore processing of migrants on Nauru or Papua New Guinea's Manus Island. The hope is that it will deter people from paying human smugglers for spots on the dangerous boats. "To do nothing is unacceptable," Houston said. Prime Minister Julia Gillard has said she would accept all 22 recommendations, which also includes doubling Australia's refugee intake to encourage people to come by legal means.  

August has seen the largest number of asylum seekers arriving in Australia with just over 2,000 people on 35 boats. 
Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told Australian media this week that authorities fear opportunistic human smugglers are more aggressively selling spots on boats, telling people to leave before the new offshore processing law take effect. 

"They're telling people they're selling them a ticket to Australia," Clare said. "What they're really doing is selling them a ticket to Nauru or a ticket to the bottom of the sea."


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