UN voices deep sorrow at deaths of refugees in Indian Ocean boat tragedy

15 December 2010

The United Nations refugee agency voiced “deep shock and sorrow” today after a vessel thought to be carrying Iranian and Iraqi asylum-seekers foundered on the coast of Australia’s Christmas Island, with at least 27 people reported dead, including children.

“We believe that far too many people are tragically losing their lives as they take desperate measures to escape conflict, persecution and poverty,” the spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Melissa Fleming, said in a press statement.

UNHCR acknowledges that the movement of tens of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers test the capacity of countries on the shores of the Asia-Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or the Gulf of Aden, she added, but “by the same token, many people coming by boat to these regions are found to be refugees.”

According to news reports, the vessel crashed into rocks in very rough seas on the remote island, which is closer to Indonesia than to Australia. Apart from the death toll, a further 42 people were rescued, some with serious injuries.

Australia’s immigration centre on Christmas Island currently houses nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers.


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