Two killed as boat carrying Afghans sinks

Monday, 20 August 2001
Jakarta Post

CILACAP, Central Java (JP): Two people, including a toddler, died of starvation while a boat carrying 134 Afghans slowly sank in waters eight miles south of Nusakambangan Island, near Cilacap, Central Java, police confirmed on Saturday.

Banyumas Police chief Sr. Comr. Nata Kesuma told The Jakarta Post that the survivors were rescued by local fishermen on Friday and were being held in the meeting hall of the prison on Nusakambangan Island in Cilacap regency.

The survivors, claiming to be tourists from Afghanistan, said that they had run out of food when the vessel was about to sink two days before Cilacap fishermen found them. Starvation caused two deaths; one of the victims was identified as Ahmad Sadeli, 20.

Nata said that the wooden boat, measuring around 6 meters X 20 meters, had no name and displayed no flag.

"The vessel was designed to carry only 45 passengers. The vessel, which completely sank today, began to leak due to it being overloaded," he said on Saturday.

Nata said that his office was cooperating with the immigration office in dealing with the Afghans.

"We don't know when we will release them. But as soon as they can show us legal documents, including passports, we will set them free," he said.

"We are investigating them. They entered this area illegally and claim to be Afghans, however, none of them can produce passports or official immigration documents, arguing that the group leader took their passports. So far, they have failed to identify the group leader," Nata said.

Cilacap Immigration Office head Joko Sartono said the Afghans claimed to rent the boat on an island somewhere near Jakarta.

"They claim to have left Jakarta for Christmas Island in Australia. However, when entering Cilacap waters the vessel sprung a leak and the captain and his deputy fled," Joko said, quoting a statement from one of the survivors.

"They said they were in Indonesia on an excursion," he said.

Indonesian authorities have been kept busy by a constant flow of refugees from Afghanistan and other Asian countries, including Iraq and Pakistan.

As many as 318 refugees have been accommodated in Bogor, West Java, under the auspices of the International Office of Migration (IOM).

During questioning those migrants stated that they had to leave their country for security and economic reasons. They revealed that they intended to head for Australia.

In Mataram

Meanwhile, at least 250 illegal migrants from Iraq and Afghanistan, being held since July 29 at the Wisma Nusantara hall in Ampenan, Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, went on a hunger strike to protest treatment by local authorities.

Only pregnant women and children did not join the hunger strike, which started on Thursday.

Some of the protesters tightened towels around their stomachs and looked pale and weak while sitting in front of the hall. Some 50 police officers carrying rifles patrolled the compound.

The illegal migrants held posters and banners, some stating 'We want to meet Megawati' and 'Why are we jailed?'

Eggs, rice, bread and bananas, provided by Wisma Nusantara management, littered the area after being rejected by the migrants.

An IOM employee said that the migrants were fed up with the security at Wisma Nusantara. "They probably think they have been imprisoned," the source said.

West Nusa Tenggara Police chief Brig. Gen. Farouk Muhammad said that he was disappointed by the hunger strike.

"They must be patient. We are waiting for a response from the UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) regarding their status. We must determine whether they are refugees (according to UNHCR guidelines)," he said. (45/47/sur)

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