At least 130 people have been rescued from sea after another boat carrying asylum-seekers bound for Australia capsized north of Christmas Island on Wednesday, according to local media reports.
The incident comes just days after another asylum-seekers' boat capsized in the same area last week, killing at least 90 people. That boat was believed to have been carrying about 200 people, out of which 110 were rescued. Some 17 bodies were recovered before search and rescue operations were called off on Saturday.
The incident is said to have occurred approximately 13 nautical miles from where last week's tragedy took place. Merchant ships were the first to arrive at the scene after the boat sent a distress call early on Wednesday. Two Australian navy vessels and an aircraft is also taking part in the operations.
In addition to those rescued, one body has been recovered from the sea so far. It is believed there were at least 150 people on board the ill-fated boat when it sank. Search and rescue operations have been suspended until Thursday morning.
At least 50 asylum-seekers died in December 2010 after their boat crashed into razor-sharp limestone rocks below a cliff on Christmas Island. It is estimated that more than 100 boats have brought over 6,000 asylum-seekers to Down Under since January last year.
Christmas Island is a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean and is actually closer to Indonesia than Australia. The island is about 750 miles north-west of the Australian mainland and some 190 miles south of Indonesia.
Australia has an immigration detention center on the island where all asylum-seekers arriving by boat are taken. Currently, more than 2,500 people are waiting at the island's processing center for officials to rule on their cases.
Under the existing laws, asylum-seekers are held on Christmas Island until an ombudsman expedite their cases in six-monthly reviews. Taking into account the overcrowding at the island's detention center in recent months, authorities have opened new immigration detention centers in mainland Australia.
Australia has become a coveted destination for desperate people from impoverished and war-torn countries seeking a new life. Many of them attempt to enter the country by making a perilous 230-mile voyage from Indonesia in rickety fishing boats, which are often operated by human-traffickers.
Australia has seen recently a spurt in people from countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sri Lanka attempting to reach its shores in decrepit fishing boats. Prime Minister Julia Gillard had earlier attempted to address the issue by reaching a refugee swap deal with Malaysia that would have allowed Australia to send 800 asylum-seekers to that country in exchange for accepting 4,000 confirmed refugees from the Asian country over the next four years.
But Gillard was forced to drop the proposal after the country's High Court ruled that her plans to send asylum seekers to camps set up in other countries were unlawful, stating that the arrangement does not provide any guarantees that the rights of the asylum-seekers sent to those countries would be protected.
The opposition Liberal Party has been calling for a return to another controversial policy brought in by the government of former prime minster John Howard, which allowed sending people arriving on Australian shores illegally by boats to a detention center set up on the remote Pacific island state of Nauru. The ruling Labor Party and the opposition are yet to strike a deal to address the issue.
by RTT Staff Writer
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