Thu, 18 Aug 1994

Refugees to leave Galang Island by 1995: Official

JAKARTA (JP): A Ministry of Foreign Affairs official says he is confident that Galang Island in the Riau archipelago will be free from Vietnamese and Cambodian boat people by 1995.

Director of Security F. Rumayar said on Tuesday that the plan is proceeding smoothly with the repatriation process now moving ahead without serious obstacles.

"The plan to vacate the island is going on and the number of boat people is dropping sharply," he said.

The government has earmarked the island, which has been used to temporarily accommodate Indochinese boat people for the last 10 years or more, to serve as a new industrial designated zone as part of the Batam industrial complex.

Rumayar said currently some 7,800 people wait to be repatriated to their home counties, compared to more than 10,000 in January.

He said the authorities did not face serious problems regarding the repatriation process, thanks in part to the memorandum of understanding Indonesia signed with Vietnam last year on how to deal with the problem.

Under the agreement, Vietnam agreed to take back all the Vietnamese boat people who do not qualify as political refugees.

Rumayar said the government is working with the United Nation's High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to process the boat people.

He said of the 7,800 boat people now remaining on Galang, 150 were "screened" (qualified as refugees) which means they will be entitled to resettlement in third countries. The others will have to be sent back to their home countries.

The government has set August 1995 as a target for removing all the boat people from Galang.

Indonesia also pushed Vietnamese President Le Duc Anh during his recent visit here to speed-up the repatriation process.

The repatriation program has been met with strong criticism from the boat people themselves. A Vietnamese man committed self- immolation in May in protest against the policy. The man, Pham Van Chau, died later in a hospital.

The suicide was part of a week-long strike by over 500 Vietnamese on Galang who demanded that they be included in the "screened-in" criteria.

Antara reported that some of the boat people seem to enjoy their lives on the island with many owning shops, restaurants and even small cinemas. (par)