People smugglers may have led Lebanese asylum seekers to believe a voyage from West Java was safe, and would be taken in a seaworthy vessel, a community leader said.
Lebanon’s foreign ministry has confirmed 68 of its nationals were on board a boat which sank late last week, leaving at least 32 people dead and more missing.
As the consequences of the civil war in Syria spill across the Lebanese border, affected people are fleeing the country, Victorian Lebanese Community Council head Michael Kheiralla said.
Kheirallah also said people smugglers facilitating the journey from Lebanon were leading asylum seekers to believe the trip would be safe.
“They are promoting it as a safe trip,” he told Business Insider. “They are not aware of the risks.”
Lebanese nationals have not made up the bulk of asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia by boat in recent years, though the security situation in the country’s north could see more risking the journey.
Refugees fleeing the war in Syria — now in its third year — are putting pressure on communities in Lebanon, Kheirallah said.
“There are no jobs, no employment … there is no safety or security any more. They feel they are not safe.”
Late last week a boat carrying up to 80 asylum seekers from Lebanon, Iran and Iraq sank off the Cianjur region of west Java, after turning back to Indonesia once it encountered rough seas.
Several of the asylum seekers had ties to the Lebanese community in Melbourne and Sydney, Kheirallah said.
“I spoke to relatives who had people on the boats who are all dead.”
Air Marshall Mark Binskin told reporters this afternoon the official death toll was currently at 31 people, including children. 22 people managed to swim to shore.
Immigration minister Scott Morrison has defended Australian authorities who had been accused by survivors of ignoring rescue pleas.
“This was an incident that occurred in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue region, close – very close – to the Indonesian coast,” he said today.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott will this evening meet Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. While Abbott has said he hopes to concentrate on trade and investment, Australia’s border protection policy is set to capture a lot of attention.
Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been tense, with Indonesia suggesting the Coalition’s policy of towing back asylum seeker boats which often leave from West Java is a breach of its sovereignty.
Last week former Australian foreign minister Alexander Downer said Indonesia should tone down its “pious rhetoric”, after the country expressed its disappointment with the Coalition’s Operation Sovereign Borders.
Meanwhile, Indonesian foreign minister Marty Natalegawa recently took the unorthodox step of releasing details of a discussion he had with his Australian counterpart Julie Bishop in New York.
The release of the details were in contravention to requests made by Bishop to deal with the issue of asylum seekers discreetly.
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