Possible Drownings Highlight Dangers of Illegal Travel

DIMA Media Release
MPS 138/2000
22 December 2000

The Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, Philip Ruddock, said this afternoon that the apparent drowning of at least three illegal boat arrivals off the coast of north-western Australia was an unnecessary tragedy and of great regret.

A boat, originally believed to be carrying about 40 people, was detected yesterday at Lagrange Island in Admiralty Gulf off the north Kimberley coast.

Three of the people are believed to have drowned having attempted to swim from Lagrange Island to other islands nearby. A Coastwatch aircraft and a Customs vessel are searching nearby waters for the missing people.

"This is another tragic reminder of the dangers," Mr Ruddock said. "The people smugglers who organise these clandestine trips don't care if their passengers don't survive the trip. The Indonesian crews are also expendable once the organisers have received their money.

"Last March we estimated that about one-third of boats attempting to bring people illegally to Ashmore Islands did not arrive."

Mr Ruddock said he was particularly disappointed that members of the Australian community were endangering the lives of their relatives by encouraging and assisting them to come to Australia illegally.

"These are treacherous waters and some of the boats are not seaworthy. Given the dangers, I find it very difficult to comprehend that Australians would willingly break the law to help their relatives - often young children - embark on such a dangerous and ill-advised journey.

"Nevertheless it has become obvious that relatives in Australia know the route, the boat, the date and time of departure from Indonesia and the estimated time of arrival at Ashmore Islands or other destinations.

"They are knowingly taking part in illegal operations, breaking Australian law and putting their relatives at risk.

"My department will be investigating the extent of their complicity in the illegal arrivals. They should be in no doubt that they are breaking the law."

There is believed to be at least one boat still overdue from Indonesia.

Mr Ruddock said the Australian Government had been working hard to tell would-be unauthorised arrivals of the dangers of travelling illegally to Australia.

"I will be travelling to countries in the Middle East in January to have discussions on how to curb the global problem of people smuggling and illegal immigration."

X-URL: http://www.minister.immi.gov.au/media_releases/ruddock_media00/r00138.htm

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