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Indonesia Refugees Sinks 19-Oct-2001

374 Dead Asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq on a refugee boat sinks en route from Indonesia to Australia.

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Indonesia Refugees, Sinks, Indonesia to Australia, 19-Oct-2001

374 Dead Asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq on a refugee boat sinks en route from Indonesia to Australia.

October 19, 2001: An Indonesian fishing boat known as the SIEV-X sinks en route to Australia, carrying 421 passengers, mostly Iraqis and Afghans. Of those, 353 died, 146 of them children, 142 women and 65 men, in the most deadly incident involving refugees in Australia's history. Most survivors were rescued by an Indonesian fishing boat, the Indah Jaya Makmur. A 45th survivor was rescued about twelve hours later by another boat, the Surya Terang.

SIEV-X sank during a storm in Indonesian waters about 70 km south of Java. The area was legally in international waters but within both Indonesia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and Indonesia's internationally designated zone of search and rescue responsibility. It also fell inside a temporary Australian border protection surveillance area around the Australian external territory of Christmas Island (which is some 1700 km from mainland Australia). This latter designation was an internal planning and operational tool used by the Australian authorities to deter people smuggling. It had no legal validity and conferred no responsibility in international law.

The SIEV-X incident occurred during the 2001 Australian Federal election campaign. The Tampa affair had focused national media's attention on the issue of asylum seekers. Prime Minister John Howard claimed his policy would prevent people smuggling and stop the boats of asylum seekers from arriving in Australia. The Howard Government had issued instructions to the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to prevent any refugees from reaching Australia via boat. The AFP set about a campaign of disrupting organized people smugglers who operated with overcrowded and dangerous boats. The Royal Australian Navy began intercepting boats that entered Australian waters and transferring all people to Christmas Island.

The International Organization for Migration stated that it had expected such an event to occur due to "the way the people smugglers pack these boats".

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