UNHCR deplores Indonesian migrant boat sinking

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The UN refugee agency said Friday it deplored the loss of life when a boatload of asylum-seekers sank off Indonesia, and called on countries to do more to tackle the problem.

The boat, carrying migrants from Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, capsized on Tuesday off Java on the way to Kupang in eastern Indonesia, a key transit point for refugees trying to reach Australia.

Indonesian officials blamed overloading of a leaky boat as well as strong winds and waves as high as 2.5 metres (eight feet).

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which said at least nine people had lost their lives, added: "The incident underlines once again the desperate steps that people are willing to take in their search for protection or a better future.

"It also adds urgency to UNHCR's calls to the international community to cooperate more closely in addressing irregular migration and providing protection and solutions to refugees, thus averting the need for individuals to undertake such perilous journeys by boat," it said in a statement.

It quoted Indonesian authorities as saying that the bodies of four children and five women had been recovered, while the number of missing was still unknown.

"Estimates are that there were between 60 and 100 people on board the overloaded vessel -- apparently built to carry only 30 passengers -- when it capsized in bad weather and rough seas," the statement said.

"Thanks to prompt action by the Indonesian navy, 47 people were rescued."

The UNHCR praised the Indonesian authorities and the UN's International Office for Migration for providing medical supplies, food, clothing and psychological support to the traumatised survivors.

Thousands of asylum seekers head through Southeast Asian countries on their way to Australia every year, and many link up with people smugglers in Indonesia for the dangerous voyage.

Canberra has failed in its efforts to set up a regional processing centre in neighbouring countries in an attempt to reduce the flow of asylum seekers heading to Australia.

© 2011 AFP

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