Illegals back in Indonesia
By Daniel Clery
10 November 2003
FOURTEEN boat people who arrived at Melville Island last week have been returned to Indonesia in a move the Federal Government says will send a powerful message to would-be illegal immigrants.
The male Turkish Kurds and the four Indonesian crew on board the Minasa Bone - now called SIEV 14 by the Government - are under police guard at the port of Saumlaki on remote Yamdena Island, about 500km north of Darwin.
The 12m fishing boat was forced to return to Indonesia under its own steam after the navy ship Geelong towed the vessel to the edge of international waters.
It is the first time a boat getting so close to the Australian coast has been returned to Indonesia under the coalition's hardline asylum seeker policy.
But Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone said the operation did not represent a change to the Pacific solution policy of taking intercepted boat people to off-shore detention centres, saying boats had been intercepted and returned previously.
The cost of the highly secretive operation will continue to mount for taxpayers, with Australia bound under a regional co-operation agreement to meet the costs for the upkeep and processing of the boat people while in Indonesia, or pay for their voluntary return to Turkey.
International Organisation of Migration regional representative Dennis Nihill said while the 14 men were in the care of police, he understood they were being housed in motel-style accommodation. IOM officers and a representative from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees were in Saumlaki and the men would be able to have any claim for refugee status heard shortly.
Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer said though there was conflict between the Turkish Government and Kurdish separatists, the boat people "didn't come from some battle zone". They did not even ask for asylum on arriving at Melville Island. Shadow attorney-general Robert McClelland said rushing through regulations to remove 4000 islands from Australia's migration zone and using HMAS Geelong as a tow boat was a panicked response to the arrival of 14 boat people.
By excising the islands, the Government was sending the message to drug runners, arms smugglers and even terrorists that Australia could not defend islands just kilometres from the mainland.