More Than 250 Boat People Believed Drowned

DIMA Media Release
13 April 2000

More than 250 people are thought to have drowned after three boats transporting them illegally to Australia disappeared without trace in the past month, the Australian Government has announced.

"The largest of the three boats was last seen on the west coast of Java on March 24 when it pulled in for repairs after hitting a reef," a spokesperson for the Australian Government Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs said today.

An estimated 200 people, mostly from Iraq and Iran, were on board one of the vessels. All had paid people smugglers to be transported illegally to Australia.

Despite repairs, a local eyewitness described the boat as being in very poor condition.

"The boat set off during a severe storm on March 25 for the one and a half day trip to Christmas Island, a remote outcrop in Australian territorial waters, and has not been heard of since," the spokesperson said.

"We don't know what has happened to those people."

Another boat was thought to be carrying about 50 people, while some survivors are known to have been pulled from the third boat, which sank after hitting a reef in Indonesian waters. It is unknown how many people from the third boat may have drowned.

Urgent inquiries are under way in an attempt gain information about all three boats, but it appears all sank before reaching Australian waters. Australian authorities are closely monitoring the Christmas Island region.

The Australian Government was aware of several other boats getting into serious trouble in the past few weeks on the trip to Australia, many of them carrying significant numbers of women and children, the spokesperson said.

"This is the message the Australian Government has been trying to get out to those people attempting to enter the country illegally. It is a dangerous trip, and every year people die trying the journey," they said.

"They should not believe the lies of the people smugglers who tell them they will be travelling to Australia in new boats. These are unsafe boats that are often in danger of sinking.

"Australian immigration officials travelled to Syria, Jordan, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan earlier this year to tell people of the dangers of trying to enter Australia illegally, to try to avert tragedies such as this."

"Once again, I ask ethnic communities in Australia to tell their families and friends overseas not to attempt to enter Australia illegally. Don't believe the lies of the people smugglers, it is a dangerous journey."

13 April 2000
Media Inquiries: Kym Charlton (02) 6264 4817


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