UNHCR saddened at loss of life as boat breaks up on Christmas Island

News Stories, 15 December 2010

© AP Photo/ABC
People clamber on the rocky shore on Christmas Island during a rescue attempt as the boat carrying suspected asylum-seekers breaks up in the background earlier today.

GENEVA, December 15 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency expressed deep shock and sorrow at the tragic loss of life on Wednesday after a vessel thought to be carrying asylum-seekers foundered on the coast of Australia's Christmas Island.

News reports said at least 27 people died, including children, when the vessel crashed into rocks in very rough seas. A further 42 were rescued, some with serious injuries. The passengers were believed to be Iranians and Iraqis.

Australia has an immigration centre on remote Christmas Island and this currently houses nearly 3,000 asylum-seekers.

UNHCR's chief spokesperson, Melissa Fleming, mourned the deaths. "We believe that far too many people are tragically losing their lives as they take desperate measures to escape conflict, persecution and poverty," she added in a press statement.

Fleming said UNHCR acknowledged that the movement of tens of thousands of migrants and asylum-seekers tested the capacity of countries on the shores of the Asia-Pacific, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean or the Gulf of Aden. "By the same token, many people coming by boat to these regions are found to be refugees," she said.