Christmas Island bears witness to more tragedy | Pacific Beat

Christmas Island bears witness to more tragedy

Christmas Island bears witness to more tragedy

Updated 26 March 2013, 12:08 AEDT

Yet another tragedy has brought into sharp relief the perils asylum seekers are prepared to face in order to get to Australia.

A woman and a child have died after the boat they were on was hit by unexpected high seas and rolled just 14 nautical miles from Christmas Island.

Another child and a pregnant woman who were critically injured have been flown to hospitals in Perth.

Presenter: Lexi Metherell

Speakers: Jon Stanhope, administrator of Christmas Island; Brendan O'Connor, Immigration Minister; Brian Lacey, former Christmas Island administrator

LEXI METHERELL: The number of boats appearing over the horizon is rising again after the annual lull during the high seas of the monsoon season.

There have been around 50 since the start of the year.

But even though the swell is subsiding it's still not a safe trip, as yesterday's tragedy shows.

Jon Stanhope is the administrator of Christmas Island, where more than 50 asylum seekers died in 2010 when their boat smashed into rocks.

And last year, 90 perished north-west of the island when their boat capsized.

He watched as another sombre scene unfolded on the island yesterday.

JON STANHOPE: I, along with many Christmas Islanders, were in Flying Fish Cove when the survivors from this disaster were brought ashore at the jetty and walked down the jetty - women of all ages, children, some toddlers, you know there is a very human dimension when you're faced with the reality of seeing people walking the length of a jetty after a disaster such as this.

LEXI METHERELL: So it seems to you that there were a lot of family groups on this boat?

JON STANHOPE: Yes, I must say there were, there were, yes. There were a significant number of women, most men but certainly a significant number of women and significant numbers of children.

LEXI METHERELL: It's understood the rest of the 90-odd survivors are being housed on the Immigration Department's Phosphate Hill centre on the island.

If those people are channelled into community detention, they'll get a small regular Centrelink payment but they won't be allowed to work.

There are reports many asylum seekers are struggling to survive under those conditions and on Q and A last night, the Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor indicated he's looking at that.

BRENDAN O'CONNOR: Well, I'm concerned about the level of support. There is no decision to be made by Government in relation to changing that work arrangement but what I have done - and I've been in the portfolio for a short time - is I'm speaking with those advocates and others about this particular issue because I understand the difficulty that people are confronting.

LEXI METHERELL: There are now more than 2,000 asylum seekers on Christmas Island.

According to the Immigration Department's website, the island's centres can hold 2,078.

The Opposition says the Federal Government's asylum seeker policy launched more than six months ago is failing to quell boat arrivals.

Brian Lacey was Christmas Island's administrator during the 2010 tragedy.

He left in October last year.

BRIAN LACEY: There needs to be some system of urgent processing and urgent release of the people who come there because if you have those facilities overcrowded as we had in March 2011 then the consequences are catastrophic, as we had then with the riots in the detention centre.

And the vessels coming to Christmas Island at this time of the year with the conditions they are, are almost certain to run into trouble.

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