Authorities Probe New Asylum Seeker Arrivals

Authorities probe new asylum seeker arrivals

By Yuko Narushima
The Age (Melbourne) April 21, 2010

Immigration authorities are investigating claims that as many as 18 asylum seekers, including families, who fled the boat moored at Merak in Indonesia have arrived on Christmas Island.

They are believed to have paid people smugglers to sail to Australia and their boat has subsequently been intercepted and brought to the island.

The group who were coaxed to disembark in Merak have now been transferred to the Indonesian immigration centre at Tanjung Pinang, and their claims for asylum will be assessed by the UNHCR.

It could be a year before their claims are assessed and then years until a third country is found to resettle them. Those who fled the boat will now be processed within months in Australia.

It is believed those who have arrived at Christmas Island came before the federal government's April 9 crackdown on claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. Those on board the Merak vessel were almost all Tamils. Among those believed to have made it to Australia is nine-year-old girl, Brindha, who made an emotional plea to Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to ''please'' allow her to come to Australia.

An Immigration Department spokesman confirmed it was investigating the claims.

''It is possible that a number of Sri Lankans from the vessel in Merak did escape and it is also possible they've connected up at a later time with people smugglers and set out for Australia.''