Turkish refugees say they pleaded with authorities

AM - Thursday, 13 November , 2003 08:11:41
Reporter: Tim Palmer

DAVID HARDAKER: The 14 Turkish Kurds towed away from Melville Island north of Darwin last week have now provided detail which they say backs their claims that they begged Australian authorities to allow them to stay.

The men are now seeking asylum in Indonesia, where they are being kept in detention and their claims have prompted Indonesian authorities to inquire what did exactly happen when they arrived on Australia's shores.

Indonesia Correspondent Tim Palmer with this report.

TIM PALMER: Just hours after Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said he had now commissioned an inquiry into what transpired between Australian authorities and the 14 Turkish Kurds on the boat Minasa Bone last week, a number of the men were giving their version of events, for the first time in Turkish and as a result in significantly more detail than before.

Sitting in the Kalideres detention centre in Jakarta, Abuzer Goles was asked whether members of the group has spoken to Australian officials about their desire to stay in Australia.

"Thousands of times, thousands", he said. "I begged them, I pleaded down on my knees. They sent a Turkish interpreter and I pleaded with him saying I'll do anything not to be sent back. We spent four days on the water, ten days without sleep, it nearly killed us. I'm a human, I'm a human being, I'm a refugee", he said as he broke down crying.

Two other men claimed that whether they asked the Australian officials for food, water medicine or to listen to their pleas to stay, the answer was always the same - "shut up and be quiet".

The men described paying an Iraqi people smuggler in Indonesia $4,000 each to get them onto the boat that made its way to Melville Island.

Now International Organisation for Migration officials say two of the men are ready to go home to Turkey while the remainder have told the UN High Commission for Refugees they will now seek asylum in Indonesia, and that has brought criticism from a senior Indonesian Immigration official of Australia's role in the matter.

Spokesman for Indonesia's Immigration Department, Ade Endang Dahlan, says Indonesia shouldn't be treated as a dumping ground by Australia. He said that his Department's initial investigation into the history of the 14 men in Indonesia will now be broadened to examine what went on between the 14 men and Australian officials off the Northern Territory coast last week.

Ade Dahlan says the men have already told his investigators that they did seek asylum in Australia.

ADE DAHLAN: If they are asylum seeker, the Australian Government must receive them because Australia signed the Convention 51. If you asked Alexander Downer what is the reasoning the Turkish get sending to Indonesia? It is a problem for Indonesia.

TIM PALMER: While the Australian Government says the matter was resolved with full cooperation at a government-to-government level with Indonesia, that clearly hasn't filtered down to this level of Indonesia's immigration authority.

In Jakarta this is Tim Palmer for AM.

X-URL: http://www.abc.net.au/am/content/2003/s988043.htm

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