Another Asylum Horror: Wooden Boat Capsizes Off Christmas Island

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AAP / AFP / Getty Images

Residents and police (R) try to rescue refugees from an asylum boat (C) being smashed by violent seas against the jagged coastline of Australia's Christmas Island on December 15, 2010

A wooden boat packed with asylum seekers hit jagged rocks off Australia today, dumping men, women and children into rough seas.

The boat  split apart off the coast of Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean. Witnesses say there may have been as many as 80 people aboard the rickety vessel. It is not certain, yet, how many survived.

The island, which is closer to Indonesia than Australia, is a popular landing spot for ships carrying asylum seekers. As TIME reported last year,  hundreds of desperate people journey from Indonesia to Australia each year, often under appalling conditions.

(Watch ‘In Calais, a Dead End for Refugees.’)

But it’s not just an Australian problem. According to the UN there are 15 million recognized refugees around the world at the beginning of 2009, and another 826,000 asylum seekers. More than half of the world’s refugees are in Asia. To learn more about the plight of asylum seekers, read ‘Life in Limbo: The Asylum Problem.’

(Watch a video about the dangers facing asylum seekers in South Africa.)