11 Jul 2009

15 asylum-seekers safe; grave fears for the other 60

4:42 pm on 11 July 2009

Some of the 74 Afghan asylum-seekers who went missing in treacherous Indonesian waters en route to Australia have been found, but there are grave fears for others who remain missing.

Australian refugee advocate Ian Rintoul said on Saturday that 15 of the asylum-seekers were in police custody at Bima, on the Indonesian island of Sumbawa.

Mr Rintoul, who raised the original alarm after the refugees' boat broke down in the Sape Strait on Wednesday, said the group had contacted him by mobile phone from a Bima police station on Saturday.

"They are anxious and distressed, having been kept isolated at the police station since last night," he said.

"They expect another group to be brought to the police station later today, but they are extremely worried that another 20 or 25 have been lost."

The group said they'd been transported to land from their stricken vessel by a small boat, which had been too small to take everyone.

They told Mr Rintoul they were not sure if the others had been rescued later or not. The original boat was "gone", they said.

A search for the asylum-seekers was launched after they sent a text message to a contact in Pakistan, saying their vessel was in distress.