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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

120 Afghan Refugees Escorted Off Ship at Java Dock

April 11, 2012

Merak, Banten. Indonesian authorities on Tuesday managed to persuade about 120 Australia-bound immigrants from Afghanistan to disembark from a tanker that rescued them after their boat leaked, officials said.

The Afghans had earlier refused to leave the Singapore-flagged tanker MT Hermia, which had been docked at Merak, on the western tip of Java, since the accident on Sunday.

They relented after officials, including representatives from the International Organization for Migration, promised they would not be sent to an immigration detention center, police said.

Most of the immigrants left the boat voluntarily but some had to be dragged off by authorities after a dramatic scene on deck when two of them began shouting: “We want to die, we want to die,” an AFP correspondent said.

The pair began to bleed after repeatedly beating their heads with metal objects.

“We have evacuated all of the asylum seekers and they are now being taken to the Feri Merak hotel,” near Merak, said immigration agency spokesman Maryoto Sumadi.

The immigrants were driven away on two buses, including the bleeding pair who were not seriously injured.

Earlier on Tuesday, the Afghans had said they would not disembark until Indonesia agreed to provide a vessel to allow them to continue to Australia, officials said.

A few hours before they disembarked, an Afghan speaking on behalf of the group had said they wanted certain reassurances before agreeing to leave.

“We will get off the boat only if they promise that no one will be put into detention centers and no one will go to jail,” said the man, who identified himself only as Atiqullah.

“I have been sent by the others on the boat to convey this message,” he told reporters in English, before returning to the ship.

Maryoto said that those without proper documents would be sent to detention centers.

“We will check which asylum seekers have legal documents identifying them as refugees and which do not,” he said.

In 2009, more than 200 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers refused to get off a boat docked at Merak in a six-month standoff with the authorities, demanding to go to Australia.

They were not granted asylum, while around 80 other Sri Lankans rescued at the same time by an Australian customs vessel were granted a special resettlement deal by the Australian government.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention and often jails asylum seekers awaiting refugee status. The country has long been a transit point for migrants from the Middle East and South Asia seeking to reach Australia.

DPA & AFP

Jakarta Globe

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