130 Rescued from Capsized Refugee Boat Off Australia

Posted June 27th, 2012 at 2:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Australian authorities have rescued most of the people on board a crowded refugee boat that overturned Wednesday in the Indian Ocean.

Rescuers saved 130 people from where the ship capsized, about 200 kilometers north of Australia's remote Christmas Island. Authorities say one body has been recovered, and several others could still be missing.

The sinking comes less than a week after another boat headed for Australia carrying more than 200 asylum seekers capsized in the same area, killing up to 90 people.

The incidents have rekindled debate in Australia about how to deter the thousands of asylum seekers from making the dangerous sea journey each year in overcrowded and sometimes poorly constructed boats.

As the rescue attempt unfolded Wednesday, Australian lawmakers held an emotional debate over a bill that would revive a deal reached last year to send new boat arrivals to Malaysia in exchange for accepting U.N.-recognized refugees living there.

Australia's opposition has not supported the legislation because Malaysia has not signed the U.N. refugee convention, creating a deadlock on the politically sensitive issue.

The bill narrowly passed Australia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday, but is considered unlikely to survive a Senate vote set for Thursday.

The U.N. refugee agency says Australia received 11,800 claims for asylum in 2011, compared with 441,000 claims globally. This year, Australian authorities have detected more than 50 boats carrying over 4,000 refugees.

Australia is a major destination for people fleeing impoverished, war-torn countries such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka. Many of them are crammed into crowded detention centers on Christmas Island and the Australian mainland.