7 Apr 2006

Australia resumes the search for Papuan asylum seekers

7:40 am on 7 April 2006

The search continues for a boatload of Papuan asylum seekers thought to have mistakenly landed on an island in Papua New Guinea in their quest to get to Australia.

Reports emerged this week that six asylum seekers from the Indonesian province had landed on an island in Australia's north.

Human rights groups said well-known union organiser Paulus Samkakai had fled with his wife and four children from the southern port of Merauke over the weekend.

The Australian Customs Service called off the search for the family after an aerial search and investigations of a number of possible landing sites.

Prime Minister John Howard said yesterday it was presumed they had gone to Papua New Guinea.

But Customs Minister Chris Ellison said Australian investigations and surveillance flights were continuing in the Torres Strait area.

The incident had threatened to further strain Australia-Indonesia relations after Australia late last month granted temporary protection visas to 42 asylum seekers from the troubled Indonesian province.

Meanwhile, Indonesian importers have called for a boycott of Australian goods as anger mounts over the decision.