In the dwindling days before Australia reopens island detention camps for asylum seekers who try to reach its shores by sea, as many as 100 people are feared dead on yet another sunken boat off Indonesia. Australian officials have bemoaned a recent rush of boats before the camps open.
The troubled boat is believed to have held as many as 150 people, more than 50 of whom have reportedly been saved since early Wednesday morning when Australian rescue teams got a distress call from southwest of Java. Scores more are still missing.
Indonesian search and rescue crews tried to spot the struggling vessel from the air, but didn’t find people in the water until early Thursday morning, a lag that has spurred criticism of its efforts.
“Don't underestimate how hard it is to find people in the middle of the sea,” Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare told reporters Thursday in Sydney, defending the Indonesian rescuers.
The deaths come weeks after Australia decided to establish camps for asylum seekers offshore on Nauru and Papua New Guinea while their cases are weighed in an attempt to discourage people from risking their lives on rickety boats to reach Australia.
The country used to hold asylum seekers on the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus in Papua New Guinea, but abolished the practice years ago under a torrent of criticism from human rights groups.