Dozens of Asylum Seekers Drown off Indonesia

And many more still missing after boat headed to Australia sinks
By Ruth Brown,  Newser Staff
Posted Sep 29, 2013 4:08 PM CDT
Curious onlookers gather near the body of one of the drowning victims.   (AP Photo)
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(Newser) – At least 31 people have drowned after a boat carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia capsized on Friday, and dozens more are still missing, the ABC reports. The asylum seekers were from Lebanon, Pakistan, and Iraq, and were headed to Australia's Christmas Island when the boat was hit by a 19-foot wave, reports the AP. The incident occurred just days ahead of a visit to Indonesia by new Australian PM Tony Abbott, who campaigned heavily with a promise to "stop the boats," and a platform of forcing asylum seekers back to Indonesia—a plan Jakarta isn't so happy about. The issue is expected to dominate Abbott's visit tomorrow, reports the Wall Street Journal.

But Friday's drownings could have both countries on the defensive at the meeting. Survivors claim they called Australian authorities for help when the boat began taking on water on Thursday, but were ignored for 24 hours, reports the ABC. "I called the Australian Government like 12 times. I told them we have 35 children," says one survivor. But Australia's immigration minister has rejected the allegations, claiming the first call came Friday. Meanwhile, survivors are also claiming members of Indonesia's military helped ferry them to the boat in the first place. "The army took us," says a survivor. "The army was driving the cars." (Read more Indonesia stories.)

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