Bodies of 98 asylum seekers 'thrown into sea'

Asylum seekers rescued at sea, Photo: Sri Lankan Navy
Asylum seekers rescued at sea, Photo: Sri Lankan Navy

The nation's political leaders are once again under pressure to find a solution to the asylum seeker impasse after it was reported the dead bodies of refugees had been thrown overboard in a two-month ordeal at sea.

Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor has urged the coalition to re-think its opposition to the Malaysia Solution after 98 Burmese refugees died at sea.

Sri Lankan police say they were told by refugees that the people died of dehydration and starvation after their boat's engine cut out at sea.

The survivors say they threw the deceased bodies overboard at sea.

31 men and one boy were rescued from the sinking boat, roughly 250km off the Sri Lankan coast.

Speaking to Fairfax radio, Mr O’Connor said he needed a full briefing on the situation, but it's another sign of the desperate need for a real solution.

"I think it's really now time for... the Opposition to have a rethink about their opposition to some of those recommendations because I just think we've got to take the politics out of this [and] focus on what we can do to prevent the people dying at sea in this manner," he said.

The opposition has steadfastly maintained its opposition to the Malaysian solution on humanitarian grounds.

Asylum seekers rescued at sea, Photo: Sri Lankan Navy
Asylum seekers rescued at sea, Photo: Sri Lankan Navy

The Houston panel on asylum seekers last year strongly recommended a bi-partisan solution to the crisis, but Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said his party is not to blame.

"The problem Brendan O'Connor has with the Malaysian people swap is the report of the Houston panel itself," Mr Morrison told the ABC.

"They red-lighted the proposal on the basis that the protections were insufficient and the Government has not lifted a finger to change that agreement one word, one sentence since the report was handed down.

Indonesian police earlier this week arrested 23 Sri Lankans asylum seekers who were stranded after their boat hit a reef as they tried to reach Australia’s Christmas Island, says an official.

Based on a tip-off from local fishermen, police arrested the 17 men and six women, as well as three children, off an island in Jakarta’s Thousand Islands chain on Monday morning, said senior police officer Bungin Misalayuk.

"They are all Sri Lankan nationals who planned to sail to Christmas Island. Their boat was stranded at Tidung Island,” he said today, adding that the wooden boat’s captain and crew had fled when police arrived at the site.

“They are all in good condition and being held at an immigration detention centre.”