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PM defends Australia's border policies

By the CNN Wire Staff
Australia's Prime Minister addresses journalists after 28 asylum seekers were killed while trying to reach Christmas Island.
Australia's Prime Minister addresses journalists after 28 asylum seekers were killed while trying to reach Christmas Island.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rescuers were able to save 42 people
  • The boat crash happened Wednesday near Christmas Island
  • The incident has shined a light on Australia's policy on asylum seekers

(CNN) -- Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard defended her country's border protection policy Thursday and said authorities will investigate the events surrounding the deaths of 28 asylum seekers in a boat crash.

The vessel crashed on Wednesday along the shore near Christmas Island, and Gillard, speaking at a Thursday news conference, called the event a tragedy.

"Yesterday we saw a truly horrific event, a terrible human tragedy, on what is a very dangerous coastline at Christmas Island and I know the nation is shocked by what we have seen," Gillard said.

Rescuers were able to pull 42 people from the treacherous waters and many were still getting medical treatment, Gillard said.

It was unclear how many people were on the boat so there could be more bodies found, Gillard said.

The government does have a tough set of border protection policies. We've got more assets patrolling Australia's borders than we've ever had before.
--Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
Asylum seekers shipwrecked
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The incident has also shined a light on Australia's policy on asylum seekers.

Reporters peppered the prime minister with questions about Australia's policy with some suggesting that Gillard supports soft border protection policy that encourages asylum seekers to flee to Australia.

"Prime minister, I know you said you wanted to wait for the facts, but the slamming has begun by commentators saying that you've got blood on your hands. Do you feel like you've got blood on your hands?" one reporter asked.

Another reporter asked: Isn't it "morally incumbent on your government now to do whatever it takes, within reason, to stop these boats from coming, including a much tougher set of border protection policies?"

Gillard defended Australia's policies and said more answers would come from the investigations into the incident.

"The government does have a tough set of border protection policies. We've got more assets patrolling Australia's borders than we've ever had before," Gillard said.

Gillard said the people on the boat were from Iran and Iraq. She also said people were from the Kurdish region and that includes Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Syria.

She said the investigation would involve the police and the coroner. The police will determine if there needs to be criminal charges against what Gillard called "people smugglers."

Christmas Island is an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, closer to Indonesia than to Australia. The island is about 1,600 miles northwest of the western Australian city of Perth and 220 miles south of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

On Thursday, Australian authorities said they stopped a boat that had more than 50 suspected asylum seekers in waters near Ashmore Island. Authorities will be transferred to Christmas Island for security and identity checks.

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