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Refugees camp on Aussie beach after sinking

SYDNEY--A group of asylum-seekers was found camped on a beach on Australia's remote Christmas Island Thursday, three days after their people-smuggling boat ran aground, reports said.

Gordon Thomson, president of the Christmas Island council, said the group of about 25 had been sheltering on secluded Dolly Beach since Monday when their boat foundered offshore, undetected by Australian authorities.

“Their boat has sunk and they have been living on Dolly Beach since Monday ... camped on the beach,” Thomson told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

“We're told that when offered water and food, they weren't thirsty and they weren't that hungry, so they seem to have survived quite well since Monday.”

Thomson said the group survived by eating coconuts and crabs. The alarm was raised when a small number, reported by Thomson to be ethnic Rohingya from Myanmar, ventured away from the beach Thursday and onto a main road.

“There was a mad scramble (from police and officials) about 11:30 a.m. and I assume someone has seen them walking along the road and called the cops,” he said.

Thomson said there were no injuries or fatalities reported from the sinking.

Myanmar views the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. Thousands have fled in rickety boats since deadly clashes broke out with Buddhists last year.

Christmas Island, an Australian territory 2,600 kilometers from the mainland's west coast, is located on a major people-smuggling route from Indonesia.

Border protection and maritime rescue authorities could not confirm the incident when contacted by AFP.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said there had been “an incident of an unconfirmed nature” reported on the southeastern coast of Christmas Island, which houses Australia's major detention and processing center for asylum-seekers arriving by boat.

“Details of the incident are not clear at this point and persons who were involved in this incident are being questioned by on-island agencies,” Morrison said.

“On-island agencies and Border Protection Command assets are also responding and are on scene.”

Asylum-seeker boat arrivals have dropped dramatically under the new conservative government of Tony Abbott, which has retained a hardline policy adopted by the former Labor administration of sending all boatpeople to Papua New Guinea or Nauru for permanent resettlement.

Morrison has come under fire for refusing to report sinkings or interceptions of people-smuggling boats as they occur. Instead he gives a tightly controlled weekly briefing to the press on his military-led “Operation Sovereign Borders” sea patrols.

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