Search for asylum boat abandoned as relatives flock to Java

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INDONESIA has ended the search-and-rescue mission for the missing from the sunken asylum boat off Java.

One survivor, 24-year-old Afghan Hazara Esmat Adine, said Australian families worried their relatives might have drowned on December 17 had flown to Indonesia to search for them.

He said Afghans living in the US and England had also come.

Indonesian authorities say there are 49 survivors and 101 bodies have been found. The death toll could be as high as 200, with estimates the boat was carrying 250 people – most of them Afghans and Iranians – bound for Christmas Island.

The Jakarta Post reported yesterday the Indonesian government would relax visa requirements for travellers from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, potentially sending more people into the pipeline to Australia.
A spokeswoman for Acting Home Affairs Minister Nicola Roxon said lifting visa requirements was a decision for the Indonesian government. “However Australian Customs and Border Protection and the Australian Federal Police continue to work in co-operation with the Indonesian authorities to combat people smuggling,” she said.
The Refugee Action Coalition’s Ian Rintoul said a man from Adelaide had flown to Indonesia the day after the sinking to look for seven missing relatives.

The man, one of five Australians in Indonesia looking for lost relatives, had been reunited with his 16-year-old nephew less than a week after the tragedy.

But he had been unable to see the bodies of his six other relatives who are now presumed dead.”He’s very frustrated and anxious and just wants to be able to view and identify the bodies,” Mr Rintoul said.

The Surabaya Search and Rescue Agency confirmed it had ceased its efforts about 7pm (11pm AEDT) on Monday after two days of fruitless searching.

The search was extended by three days from the normal week in the hope more bodies or survivors would be found from the vessel, which sank 40 nautical miles east of Java.

“We have stopped the search and we are just relying on fishermen in the area to tell us if they see anything,” said search and rescue co-ordinator Sutrisno.

Mr Adine lost two cousins and an uncle. He and the other survivors were in an immigration detention centre. “We’re controlled by the Indonesian police, they don’t have very good behaviour. It’s not fair we lost family and friends,” he said. “We want Australia to help us.”

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