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Indonesia boat tragedy

Briefing notes

Indonesia boat tragedy

23 October 2001

UNHCR is shocked and saddened by the sinking of a boat carrying hundreds of asylum seekers off the coast of Indonesia. UNHCR's preliminary findings indicate that asylum seekers and even refugees recognised by UNHCR were among passengers of the ship, which capsized and sank in the Java Sea last Friday, killing 360 people - 300 of them women and children. According to testimonies of eight survivors interviewed by UNHCR at a hospital in Bogor, outside Jakarta, only 44 men (42 Iraqis, 1 Afghan and 1 Iranian) survived the sinking. They spent 17 to 18 hours in the sea until rescued by fishermen who took them to Pulau Batung between Java and Sumatra. They were then transported to Java by the Indonesian Navy. The women and children, who were under the deck of the overcrowded vessel, were unable to escape and drowned, according to the survivors. They said a number of passengers had been earlier interviewed by UNHCR in Indonesia. At least six of them had been recognised as refugees by UNHCR, but decided to resort to services of people smugglers rather than wait to be resettled in a third country. Most of the boat's passengers were Iraqis but there were also Algerians, Afghans and Iranians in the group.