Boat people try to enter Australia

Last week, a boat with 49 Afghan men on board, caught fire off the coast of Australia. The people on board the boat were asylum seekers. An asylum seeker is someone who wants to live in another country but is not an official refugee. This is an illegal way of entering a country. Usually, asylum seekers pay a lot of money to people smugglers who find them a boat. These people came to Indonesia then managed to find a boat to take them to Australia. They were six weeks on board this boat and had very little food. The Australian navy stopped the boat and started to tow it to Christmas Island where they have a place for keeping asylum seekers.

Australia is close to Indonesia and Malaysia. Many people who suffer from war in their country want to live in a peaceful country. In 2001, a boat on the way to Australia with asylum seekers on board had trouble at sea and the people were rescued by a Norwegian ship, the Tampa. Australia refused to allow these people into their country. New Zealand helped to solve this difficult situation. (See December 10th 2008 for information about the Tampa.)

The fire on board the boat last week killed three men. Two others are missing and probably drowned. The other people on the boat were burnt, seven of them very badly. All those with burns are now in hospitals on Australia, receiving treatment.

The Australian government said that there is another boat on the way from Indonesia. The navy will stop that boat too.

Australia takes more than 13,000 official refugees from UNHCR, a United Nations agency.