Sat, 16 Dec 2000

RI houses 883 illegal immigrants

JAKARTA (JP): Indonesia is housing 883 illegal immigrants who entered the country without proper documents, an official said on Friday.

The spokesman to the directorate general of immigration, Mursanuddin A. Ghani, said the 883 immigrants, mostly from the Middle East, were being kept at immigration quarantines nationwide, including in Tanjung Balai Asahan and Pematang Siantar in North Sumatra; Jakarta; Cisarua in West Java; Mataram in West Nusa Tenggara; and Merauke in Irian Jaya.

"And 386 of the 883 immigrants have received refugee status issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees," Ghani told The Jakarta Post by phone.

He said 357 of these 386 immigrants were from Iraq, four were from Iran, two from Saudi Arabia, five from Pakistan, 16 from Afghanistan, one from Liberia and another one from Bahrain.

Ghani said the UNHCR was now processing requests from another 368 illegal immigrants seeking refugee status, while the status of the remaining 129 illegal immigrants remained unclear.

He said most of the illegal immigrants were heading to Australia when they were detained by immigration officials. Their vessels had been grounded along the southern coast of Java after either being caught in heavy storms, suffering engine trouble or running out of fuel.

"Officials took them to the quarantines while waiting for the UNHCR to process their status and find any third countries willing to house them," Ghani said.

No UNHCR representatives here were available for comment on Friday.

Reuters reported earlier this week up to 163 boat people en route to Australia from Indonesia were believed to have drowned when their two vessels sank in stormy seas. Their nationalities were not known.

The boats were believed to have left Indonesia last week and were expected to have arrived at Ashmore island, Australia. The 240-kilometer sea crossing to Australia from Timor island typically takes two to three days.

More than 250 suspected illegal immigrants were feared drowned last April after three boats went missing between Indonesia and Australia in stormy weather.

The Australian government estimates one-third of boats attempting to bring people illegally to Australia are lost at sea.

Australian Minister of Immigration Philip Ruddock said on Wednesday about 1,000 illegal immigrants had arrived in Australia by boat since July 1 -- about half the rate of the previous fiscal year. More than 4,000 boat people arrived illegally in Australia in the fiscal year ending on June 30, 2000. (01)