Saturday 20 January 2018

Asylum seekers die as boat sinks off Indonesia

Jonathan Pearlman Sydney

AT least 20 asylum seekers have drowned and scores more are feared dead after a boat bound for Australia sank off Indonesia, amid a growing diplomatic row over Prime Minister Tony Abbott's crackdown on seagoing migrants.

Indonesian police said last night that "20 dead bodies floating in the water, most of them children" had been found off West Java, while 25 adults had been rescued. The boat was believed to have been carrying 120 people, originally from Jordan, Lebanon and Yemen.

The sinking came ahead of a difficult overseas visit for Mr Abbott on Monday – his first as Australian prime minister – to try to soothe tensions with Indonesia over his hard-line stance on refugees.

Mr Abbott has appointed a three-star general to oversee tougher action on boat people and plans to deploy the navy to haul boats back to Indonesian waters. But the plan has faced severe criticism from Jakarta, which says it is an affront to Indonesia's sovereignty.

The Abbott government was embarrassed last week by the leak of details of private talks between the countries over the issue.

The account of the meeting between the two countries' foreign ministers in New York showed Australia's foreign minister, Julie Bishop, urging her Indonesian counterpart to deal with the issue "behind the scenes" and "quietly".

For his part, Indonesia's foreign minister, Marty Natalegawa, warned her that "unilateral steps by Australia" could lead to a breakdown of trust between the nations. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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