Dawn News

PESHAWAR, June 25: Over 150 asylum seekers from Kurram Agency and several from Quetta were on a boat, which capsized near Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean last week.

Tribal elders in Kurram Agency said information provided to local people by agents, who had made arrangements for transporting asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australia suggested that 152 residents of the area were on the said boat.

“Our information is that of a total of 217 asylum seekers on the boat, 152 were from Parachinar and the remaining from Quetta,” Hamid Hussain Turi, an elder of the area, told Dawn on Monday.

He said 35 survivors had telephoned their families in Parachinar from Christmas Island, where Australian government had set up case processing and detention facilities for illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.

Announcements were made through loudspeakers in Parachinar asking affected families to provide particulars, including photographs, of their relatives who purportedly boarded the ill-fated vessel.

Australian authorities said the boat carrying asylum seekers from Pakistan and Afghanistan sank some 200km off the Christmas Island. The boat was carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia to the Australian territory.

Australia’s Maritime Safety Authority said 110 persons, two crew members among them, had been rescued, 90 were missing and 16 bodies had been retrieved by rescue teams and taken to the island.

Imdad Ali, who is waiting for his turn to proceed to Christmas Island, told Dawn from Jakarta that the vessel was overloaded.

“I was about to board the vessel, but changed my mind at the last moment when I saw the crowd,” he said.

Lists of the people, who were reportedly on the vessel, have been displayed in Parachinar.

Affected families said they did not have information about the whereabouts of the survivors.

“People fear that many of those missing after the accident may belong to Kurram Agency,” Hamid Turi said.

He appealed to the Australian government to expedite verification of the survivors.

The Australian High Commission in Islamabad said the process of investigation and identification of persons from the vessel was being undertaken on the Christmas Island.

An official said the families concerned should give information about their relatives to the commission to help Australian authorities expedite the verification process.

He said bodies of Pakistanis would be repatriated to the country after repatriation.

A spokesman for the International Committee of the Red Cross said the Australian Red Cross had been asked to provide details that would be shared with the affected families.

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