Australia Sued by Families of Asylum Seekers Who Drowned Off Christmas Island

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By Reissa Su | June 18, 2014 1:48 PM EST

The families of dozens of asylum seekers who died in a sinking boat off Christmas Island in 2010 have filed a legal case against Australia. According to BBC, the legal representative of the families said the Australian government knew that the immigrants were exposed to risk while out at sea but did not do anything to prevent their deaths.

REUTERS/Junaidi Hanafiah
Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar wave as they are transported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar, in this file picture taken April 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Junaidi Hanafiah/Files) [Representational Image]

Reports said about 50 asylum seekers who mostly came from Iran and Iraq had died in the shipwreck as their vessel was being tossed on rocks.

Lawyer George Newhouse filed the case in behalf of the families at the NSW Supreme Court. The complaint alleged that the Australian government is guilty of not fulfilling its duty of care.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison called the case as "shameful."

In a statement, Newhouse said the government had known the boat had vulnerable men, women and children as passengers. He said authorities failed to take sufficient steps to look out for their safety.

On December 15, 2010, the boat had crashed on huge rocks near Christmas Island.  Reports said coastguards had rescued 42 survivors from the wreckage but about 50 people were believed to have drowned to their deaths.

The immigration minister has criticised the decision to lodge the case as "offensive." He said there was nothing wrong with filing legal cases in court since Australia is a free country but he accused claimants of being accountable.

Morrison said it was like "someone who has been saved from a fire suing the firemen." According to previous reports, a coroner's inquiry which lasted for eight months had blamed the asylum seekers for causing their boat to crash.

However, the coroner had criticised the government for not having adequate facilities to launch a rescue off the island.

In the early part of June, asylum seekers in Christmas Island had their mouths sewn shut in an act of protest against their detention, according to reports. Refugee advocates said around 400 asylum seekers participated in a week-long protest.

A week before, 70 asylum seekers began a "sit-in" to commemorate the 100 days since the death of killed Iranian detainee Reza Berati on Manus Island. According to a report by ABC, the protests have expanded into something more with hundreds of asylum seekers demanding a solution to their asylum claims.

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(Photo: REUTERS/Junaidi Hanafiah / )
Ethnic Rohingya refugees from Myanmar wave as they are transported by a wooden boat to a temporary shelter in Krueng Raya in Aceh Besar, in this file picture taken April 8, 2013. (REUTERS/Junaidi Hanafiah/Files) [Representational Image]
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