230 refugees stranded on Rote islandSaturday, 3 November 2001
The Jakarta Post
Jakarta: At least 230 asylum-seekers from Middle Eastern countries were stranded on Rote island in East Nusa Tenggara province after strong waves and high winds prevented them from sailing through to their destination, Australia, an East Nusa Tenggara police spokesman said on Friday.
"They are temporarily sheltered at the Kupang State Police School together with 243 other refugees taken in late October," East Nusa Tenggara Police Spokesman C. Wanton said, as Antara reported.
Police authorities rushed to Rote, a small island southwest of Kupang, the provincial capital, after receiving reports from local people about the refugees' presence, Wanton said.
He said the refugees consisted of 211 males, including a three-month old boy, and 32 females from Afghanistan (190 refugees), Pakistan (47), Iraq (four), and Iran (two)
According to Wanton, the refugees all intended to go to Australia.
Escorted by police, the refugees were ferried to Kupang on Thursday evening in fishing boats. They were brought to the Kupang State Police School, where another 243 refugees have been since October.
"Our job is only protecting and overseeing them, while their daily needs are being taken care of by IOM (International Organization for Migration), just like the other 243 refugees," he added.
The news agency did not mention the refugees' port of embarkation or whether police authorities detained any crew members from the boat attempting to smuggle the refugees into Australia.
According to Wanton, Rote, the southern most island in Asia and the Indonesian archipelago, has often been used as a final stepping stone for illegal immigrants wishing to enter Australia because of its proximity to the state of Western Australia.
Less than two weeks ago, East Nusa Tenggara police also apprehended 243 refugees from Middle Eastern countries after their boat was prevented from entering Australian waters by Australia's Navy. They had reportedly entered Australian waters but were pushed back by the Navy, forcing them to return to Indonesian waters and landing on Rote.
East Nusa Tenggara police are now coordinating with IOM and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees for their possible transfer to Jakarta, Wanton said.
Earlier, some 170 refugees, also from Middle Eastern countries, were stranded on a small island off Sumbawa after the boat they had hijacked developed engine trouble.
The issue of illegal refugees from Middle Eastern countries has become a sore point in Indonesia's relations with Australia, especially after Canberra refused entry to more than 400 asylum-seekers rescued from an Indonesian boat sinking on Australian waters, and demanded their rescuer, the crew of a European tanker, to take them to back to Indonesia.