Cilacap seeks help to deal with 138 Afghan refugees
The Jakarta Post
Friday, August 31, 2001

CILACAP, Central Java (JP): Cilacap Regent Heri Tabri Karta requested on Thursday that the central government and the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) help the local administration deal with 138 refugees from Afghanistan who have been staying in the regency town of Nusakambangan since Aug. 16.

"The central government, in this case the Ministry of Home Affairs, should take over responsibility for the Afghan refugees as they are becoming a burden to the Cilacap regency administration," Heri told reporters.

"They should be transferred to Jakarta."

He said that the UNHCR had promised to accommodate the refugees 10 days ago.

"It's been more than 10 days since their arrival on Nusakambangan (prison island) on Aug. 16. The UNHCR should keep its promise to see to all the refugees' accommodation," the regent said.

The regent's office, the penitentiary and the Cilacap Immigration Office have been burdened by additional daily expenses of about Rp 6,000 for each of the 138 refugees.

"We want to know for certain when they will leave. We object to their presence here," Tabri said.

A boat carrying at least 134 Afghans sank in waters eight miles south of Nusakambangan island. Two people, including a toddler, died of starvation as the boat passengers run out of food.

The Afghans, who possessed no passports or other immigration documents, claimed to be tourists who were heading for Christmas Island in Australia.

They did not disclose what motivated them to quit their country.

Roni, a UNHCR staff member, had asked the Cilacap authorities to accommodate the Afghan refugees at local hotels when he visited the refugees soon after their arrival on Aug. 16.

"The illogical request was turned down," the regent said at that time.

For security reasons following the attempt by several refugees to escape from their current shelter, the Nusakambangan quarantine center, they have been transferred to Batu prison, a special block for inmates convicted for drug offenses. The prison block is part of Nusakambangan Penitentiary.


Meanwhile, Middle Eastern immigrants who illegally entered Pekanbaru in Riau province and Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, have lost patience and some have escaped from the quarantine center.

Head of Pekanbaru Immigration Office R. Sukohariadi Basuki said on Thursday that the illegal immigrants had threatened to set ablaze the quarantine center.

"The immigrants are tired of being locked up and prohibited to leave the compound, and one of them is very ill," Sukohariadi said. They have been held by the authorities since they arrived five days ago by bus from North Sumatra.

He said that the ill person would be treated in hospital. "But we will never give him VIP services. That would be impossible."

He said that the 22 immigrants, who had no passports or immigration papers, were all Iraqis. "We told them not to make a commotion or we would report them to the Iraqi Embassy in Jakarta."

Sukohariadi said that his office would keep the immigrants at the quarantine center pending the arrival of UNHCR representative from Jakarta. "UNHCR will decide if the Iraqis are refugees or immigrants. If they are refugees the UNHCR will handle them."

Meanwhile, 15 out of 251 Middle Eastern people being "detained" at Wisma Nusantara in Ampenan, West Nusa Tenggara, for illegal entry have escaped.

Manager of the 56-room Wisma Nusantara, Abdurrahman RS, said that the number of escapees might have increased. "Some rooms look empty and no one will say where the room occupants have gone."

Meanwhile West Nusa Tenggara Police spokesman Adj.Comr. Tri Budi Pangastuti said that all exits from the city had been tightly guarded following the immigrants' escape.

The 251 illegal immigrants were stranded on Bima island last month and were moved to the provincial capital of Mataram last week. Their legal status has yet to be determined.

The immigrants consist of 248 Iraqis and three Afghans. Fifty six of the refugees are children.


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