Australia says refugee boat missing with 67 people on board

Reuters News
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Posted: Aug 13, 2012 8:15 PM
Australia says refugee boat missing with 67 people on board

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Great fears are held for 67 people, presumed to be asylum seekers, on board a boat that has been missing since it left Indonesia more than a month ago and may have sunk, Australian authorities said on Tuesday.

The boat is the latest in a string of vessels to attempt the dangerous crossing to Australia's northwest and news that it was missing came as Australia's parliament considers new laws to deter boats carrying asylum seekers arriving illegally.

The boat left Indonesia in late June or early July but has not been detected since, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told Australian television.

"There is no evidence that those people have arrived in Australia," Clare said, adding Australia held "very great fears" for those missing.

Since 2001, almost 1,000 people have died at sea while attempting to reach Australia on overcrowded and often unseaworthy refugee boats from Indonesia.

In a turnaround for her administration on Monday, Prime Minister Julia Gillard moved to re-open refugee detention centers on the Pacific islands nations of Nauru and Papua New Guinea to deter such arrivals.

People seeking asylum in Australia, many from Afghanistan and the Middle East, often set sail from Indonesia heading for Australia's Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island after paying people smugglers.

While illegal boat arrivals are a hot political topic, the numbers trying to reach Australia are small compared with the more than 58,000 people who arrived in Europe by sea in 2011, according to U.N. figures.

(Reporting By Maggie Lu Yueyang; Editing by Paul Tait)