Tue, 18 Sep 2001

Afghan immigrants flee Nusakambangan island

JAKARTA (JP): The directorate general of immigration confirmed on Monday the escape of several illegal Afghan immigrants from the detention center on Nusakambangan island, off the south coast of Central Java.

Muhammad Indra, the director of Immigration Supervision and Control at the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, said there were no reports yet on the exact number of escapees.

"I've called the head of the Cilacap regency immigration office on the matter. He said only several illegal immigrants had fled the island," he said from his office.

The illegal immigrants escaped on Saturday from the Wisma Sari detention facility on Nusakambangan island after several foiled attempts.

The estimate given by Indra differed from that of a staff member at the Cilacap immigration office.

Kholid, an immigration staff member, told The Jakarta Post on Sunday that most of the Afghan immigrants sheltered on the island had fled.

"There are only 31 of them left," he told the Post.

He said that the head of Batu Penitentiary in the town of Nusakambangan, who is in charge of the illegal immigrants' detention, had yet to provide details on the escape.

Cilacap regent Heri Tabri Karta claimed there were 134 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan being sheltered on the island.

Security guards on duty confirmed on Sunday the escape but could not give details on how it was executed or what measures would be taken to find them.

The Afghans were confined to the island after they were found adrift on the Indian Ocean, without fuel or food, and headed for Australia. They carried no travel documents and claimed they were tourists.

They tried leaving the island twice before because they said they found the shelter inconvenient.

Indra said that as soon as the office had more details on the escape he would order all immigration posts and the police to look for the escapees.

"We suspect that they will proceed with sailing to Australia. We will find them and bring them back.

"But the next question is where are we going to put them," he said.

Indra argued that the escape was inevitable due to the absence of sufficient quarantine facilities and no one should take the blame as the issue of illegal immigrants needed comprehensive supervision. (45/bby)