Police stop boatpeople
By Don Greenlees
The Australian
19 September 2001

INDONESIAN police have intercepted 296 Iraqi asylum-seekers preparing to board a boat to Australia from a West Java port -- a further sign the crackdown after the Tampa crisis is failing to deter people smugglers.

Indonesian police said the Iraqis had been detained near the port of Merak, 90km west of Jakarta, on Monday night.

The detention of the Iraqis is welcome evidence of Indonesia's new-found willingness to combat people trafficking to Australia. But the case has also revealed Indonesia's quandary in dealing with people-smuggling.

Although police intercepted the group, immigration officials later said the Iraqis had simply been returned to their hotel accommodation in Jakarta because of the absence of proper detention facilities.

'This is a problem we cannot solve by ourselves, it should be discussed together with all the countries involved,' Immigration spokesman Ade Endang Dahlan said. 'This action is only a preventive action.'

The asylum seekers -- 145 men, 74 women and 77 children -- were believed headed to Lampung in south Sumatra before making the hazardous journey to Christmas Island.

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