KUPANG, Indonesia: Sixteen asylum seekers have come ashore in Indonesia after their boat was turned back from Australia, police said Friday, prompting fresh concern from Jakarta over Canberra’s tough immigration policies.
An Australian navy boat had reportedly been spotted last week towing an Indonesian fishing vessel away from the Australian territory of Christmas Island.
Australia denies resettlement to political refugees arriving on boats and turns vessels back when it is safe to do so, despite criticism of the hardline policy.
Thirteen migrants from India, two from Nepal and one Bangladeshi came ashore Thursday evening in Tablolong, on Timor Island in eastern Indonesia, and the ship’s captain was also detained, local police spokesman Jules Abraham Abas said.
Indonesian news agency Antara quoted a resident as saying the people were rescued from their boat after running out of fuel off the coast and locals heard their cries for help.
Australia’s hardline approach has caused particular tensions with Indonesia, the transit point for many would-be refugees en route to Australia, and the news of another boat turn-back prompted fresh worries.
“We are concerned when some countries like Australia — rather than informing us or working with us — take unilateral action and push back boats,” Hasan Kleib, a senior Indonesian foreign ministry official told reporters in Jakarta.
The latest turn-back came as a meeting on the issue of asylum seekers was being held in Jakarta, attended by representatives from several countries, including Australia.
A Bangladeshi immigrant, Muhammad Anwar, 22, told reporters on Timor Island that the group had been heading for Australia but were turned back by the Australian navy when they reached Christmas Island.
“We spent four days in Christmas Island, but were told to turn back to Indonesia by Australian security officials, because the Australian government refuses to accept illegal immigrants,” he said, adding the migrants had each paid $5000 for their journey.
The boat captain said Australian officials destroyed their boat and then put them on another vessel to head back to Indonesia.
The Australian government no longer takes asylum seekers arriving by boat to Christmas Island, which lies between Indonesia and the Australian mainland, sending them instead to the Pacific islands of Nauru and Manus in Papua New Guinea.
They are denied resettlement in Australia even if they are found to be genuine refugees. Asylum seekers had previously been arriving regularly in often unsafe wooden fishing vessels, with hundreds drowning en route.