Indonesia Rescues 150 Refugees, Recovers 3 Bodies as Boat Sinks

Indonesian authorities rescued more than 150 people and recovered at least three bodies after a boat carrying asylum seekers sank off Java, the third fatal incident this month as Australia tries to stem the flow of refugees.

The local police and immigration office reported 157 people were rescued and three died when the boat capsized off the island’s south coast late yesterday, Andriansyah, the head of operations at the West Java search and rescue office, said by telephone today. Andriansyah said his team found 36 survivors and two bodies, and it wasn’t immediately clear whether that tally was in addition to or included in the police numbers.

Five asylum seekers have already drowned at sea between Australia and Indonesia since July 12 as the rising number of refugees heading to Australia by boat erodes support for the governing Labor party ahead of elections that must be held by Nov. 30. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has made tackling the issue a priority, announced last week that Australia will send refugees arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea.

More than 800 people, many from war-torn countries that have used Indonesia as a stepping stone to seek asylum in Australia, have died en route since October 2009, according to the Department of Immigration.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said its offer of assistance in today’s rescue effort had been turned down by Indonesian authorities.

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