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UNHCR expresses 'shock, sadness' at refugee boat sinking near Indonesia

UNHCR expresses 'shock, sadness' at refugee boat sinking near Indonesia

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) today said it was "shocked and saddened" by the sinking of a boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers off the Indonesian coast, saying 360 people died in the accident, the vast majority of them women and children trapped in the vessel.

"UNHCR's preliminary findings indicate that asylum seekers and even refugees recognized by UNHCR were among the passengers of the ship," said Kris Janowski, an agency spokesman. "The women and children, who were under the deck of the overcrowded vessel, were unable to escape and drowned."

Survivors reached by the UN agency said some of the passengers had been interviewed earlier in Indonesia, and that at least six of them had been recognized as refugees by the agency. "They decided to resort to the services of smugglers rather than wait to be resettled in a third country," Mr. Janowski said.

Reports from the area indicate that only 44 persons survived the tragedy, which took place last Friday in the Java Sea, Mr. Janowski said. Of the 360 people drowned, 300 were women and children.

Eight survivors who were interviewed by the refugee agency said they had spent 17 to 18 hours in the water until they were rescued by fishermen, who took them in their boats to Pulau Batung, between the islands of Java and Sumatra. The Indonesian navy subsequently transported them to Java.

Most of the boat's passengers were Iraqis but there were also Algerians, Afghans and Iranians in the group, Mr. Janowski said.