Boatpeople 'supplied and sent on by Indonesia'
Sydney Morning Herald
July 2 2003

A boat carrying asylum seekers intercepted off Western Australia was earlier resupplied by Indonesian authorities off the coast of West Java, migration authorities said today.

The fishing boat, carrying 54 Vietnamese, arrived off Port Hedland yesterday, breaching Australia's border protection net.

It is the first boat carrying asylum seekers to be intercepted since 2001.

Those on board are expected to be taken 1,800km to a detention centre on Christmas Island.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) today said at least one of the passengers was an Australian citizen of Vietnamese descent, and they were all part of one extended family.

IOM's head of operations in Jakarta, Steve Cook, said he became aware of the boat last week through a local newspaper report.

The boat had left an island off West Java last Friday after being resupplied by local authorities with fuel and food, he said.

"They told us that they were not briefed or informed about how to handle these things," Mr Cook said.

Indonesian immigration authorities and the IOM reached the island the next day.

Mr Cook said it was "doubtful" whether the boat would have reached Australia without being supplied with fuel.

The boat was in good condition and had been off West Java for "a few days to a week".

Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock said the arrival of the boatpeople was an isolated incident.

Mr Ruddock denied the boat had got so far due to a lack of cooperation from Indonesia, with which Canberra signed an agreement in 1999 to try to prevent asylum seekers reaching Australia.

Mr Ruddock said Australia had a close working relationship with Indonesia in relation to such matters.

"They've been very supportive of our regional efforts to combat people smuggling," Mr Ruddock told ABC Radio.

"I think it has to be seen as an isolated incident and certainly not a lack of cooperation on Indonesia's part."

The arrival indicated the need for ongoing vigilance to stop people turning up on Australian territory unannounced.

"Because you do that doesn't mean there won't be occasions in which a vessel might breach those arrangements in the way in which this has," Mr Ruddock said.

Mr Cook said the naturalised Australian citizen had apparently gone to Vietnam in March.

The head of immigration in the West Java city of Serang said the Australian citizen "appeared to be some sort of guide" to the others and spoke fluent English.

Immigration chief Daud Afifi said local police and forest rangers had first made contact with the Vietnamese boat people.

Immigration authorities had been making arrangements for the group to be housed in West Java but had reached the boat too late, he said.

"This is a lesson for us," said Daud.

"We briefed the police and the military so it won't happen again in the future," he said.

In Canberra, an Australian Customs spokesman said there was no evidence the boat identified by the IOM was the boat intercepted off Western Australia.

``There is some conjecture over whether this is indeed that vessel or another one,'' he said.

``Before we can answer `did we know it was coming', we need to work out whether this was the vessel that was the subject of those reports.

``And we don't know whether it was at this stage.''

The spokesman said it was too early to say if there may be a second boat headed towards Australia.



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