Littlest boatperson arrives to open arms
Natalie O'Brien
The Australian
3 February 2000

Cradling a tiny baby boy in his arms, resort caretaker Michael Asims struggled through the waters off Christmas Island, helping the latest load of boatpeople ashore.

Handing the chuckling baby to helpers onshore, he returned to assist the baby's mother and the other hundreds of Middle Eastern people who arrived yesterday after a 36-hour ordeal sailing in rough seas from Indonesia.

Mr Asims, the caretaker of the island resort complex, said they seemed tired but relieved and appreciative of the help given to them from the islanders. And while some of the children were distraught, he said the baby boy was calm and wide awake.

'He was smiling at me and I felt a bit touched,' Mr Asims said.

The boatload of 282 people arrived just metres off the resort complex in the picturesque Waterfall Bay Lagoon on Tuesday afternoon.

A shire worker said the boat arrived on the first 'calm' day for some time and moored off-shore near the resort, which is more sheltered than other parts of the tiny island.

'It seems they just sat there and waited for the police and the buses to arrive,' he said.

'It's been quite rough in the past week and they picked the first calm day.

'They would have been like sardines on there, standing room only, so I'd imagine it wasn't a very pleasant trip.'

It's the second-biggest boatload to arrive in Australia after a craft carrying 352 people reached Ashmore Reef last November.

The latest arrivals were 204 men, 36 women, 36 children and six infants.

The Minister for Immigration Philip Ruddock said yesterday the high number of men on board indicated the boatpeople had probably been on the move for some time before the Government's announcement of new temporary protection visas.

A Department of Immigration spokesman said last night arrangements were being made to transfer them off the island, probably to Woomera, South Australia.

The spokesman said the two crew would probably face charges of people smuggling, which carry a penalty of 20 years jail and $220,000 in fines.

Earlier this week two Indonesian people-smugglers were jailed in Western Australia for ferrying 140 Middle Eastern boat people from Java to Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean.

Rusdin Ali, 44, received a four 1/2 sentence, and 21-year-old man Darmondo was imprisoned for three years.

They were sentenced on Tuesday at the South Hedland District Court, on Western Australia's north coast.

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