1500 ready to sail from Indonesia
By KERRY TAYLOR
Friday 31 August 2001
At least 1500 boat people are ready to leave Indonesia for Australia in the next few weeks.
Government sources yesterday told The Age about 1000 people were in the Serang province of Western Java waiting for the Tampa crisis to be resolved before boarding boats to make the 36-hour journey to Christmas Island.
Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock told parliament at least 900 people had delayed their departure from Indonesia to see how the Tampa issue would be resolved.
"If these people (on board the Tampa) were to enter Australia now, it would be seen as the sign for all of them to continue coming in the way in which they are," he said.
Mr Ruddock also told Parliament that two boats carrying between 400-500 asylum seekers had been expected in Australian waters over the past few days but they had not arrived.
A spokesman for Mr Ruddock last night said there were suggestions that one boat had turned back. The other had either foundered en route, docked into other ports or delayed its trip.
A further 500 boat people were waiting in the Surabaya region of Eastern Java to sail to Ashmore Reef, government sources said. The journey takes 72 hours.
A boat carrying 350 of them was expected to leave the Surabaya region in the next 24 hours bound for Ashmore, they said.
If the boat set sail for Australia, the crew would be warned of the jail terms they face and passengers informed that they would be detained, a spokesman for Mr Ruddock said last night.
The boat could also be stopped from leaving port by Indonesian and Australian authorities, he said.
Reports to Australian authorities indicate that up to 5000 people were in Indonesia seeking passage to Australia through people smugglers.
More than 1300 Afghans and Iraqis were waiting in hotels in Jakarta to be transported to the western coast of Java, the reports said.
The illegal trade in people is believed to be controlled by only six people in Indonesia. Government sources said one alleged smuggler, a Middle Eastern man named Kais Abdul Al Rahim Asfoor, was solely responsible for sending more than 2000 people to Australia on 20 boats over the past two years.