UPDATE – Migrants turned back by Australia found off Indonesia

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Fishermen rescue 16 asylum seekers from stranded vessel reportedly pushed back from Christmas Island

UPDATES WITH MORE COMMENTS, CONFERENCE BACKGROUND

By Ainur Rohmah

JAKARTA – A group of 16 asylum seekers has come ashore in eastern Indonesia after their boat was reportedly pushed back by Australian authorities off Christmas Island.

A police spokesperson in East Nusa Tenggara province said Friday that the stranded migrant boat was discovered overnight off of southern Timor island, and those on board were evacuated by local fishermen.

“We have secured 17 people, 16 of whom were foreign migrants and one Indonesian,” Kompas.com quoted Jules Abraham Abas as saying. “Currently they are still being interrogated.”

The 13 Indians, two Nepalese and one Bangladeshi had reportedly earlier departed from Ratu Port, West Java, in a tuna-fishing vessel en route to Australia with hopes of finding employment.

The vessel was reportedly intercepted off Christmas Island — a territory of Australia in the Indian Ocean — by Australian security forces, who replaced their boat.

Sky News reported that the whereabouts of the vessel had remained unknown since it was pushed back last Friday, until its discovery in Kupang, almost 2,000 kilometers (1,240 miles) east of Christmas Island.

A fisherman, Daniel Lani, said the boat was found bobbing in the sea, having used up its fuel.

“They [the migrants] were screaming for help, and we helped them to land,” he said, as quoted by national news agency Antara.

Muhammad Anwar, a migrant from Bangladesh, said he had traveled for more than 10 days before arriving at Christmas Island.

“We sailed to Christmas Island in Australia. When I got there, we were detained for four days, and the ships that we took from Jakarta were destroyed,” he told Antara.

He said that security officials there told him that Australia did not accept the arrival of illegal migrants from any country.

Australia’s hardline policy denies resettlement to all asylum seekers arriving by sea, even when they are found to be genuine refugees.

Indonesia’s deputy minister of foreign affairs has called Australia’s returning to the vessel a “unilateral action that is not in line with the spirit of cooperation between the two countries.”

“So we need to discuss this issue together,” A.M. Fachir said Friday at a conference on asylum seekers in Jakarta.

“The unilateral action will never solve the problem,” Metrotvnews.com quoted him as saying.

Arrmanatha Nasir, a foreign ministry spokesperson, told Fairfax Media that “Indonesia’s stance remains that boat push-backs are endangering.”

He added that they would try to address that matter with an Australian official on the sidelines of the conference.

Indonesia has invited 13 countries that serve as origins and destinations of asylum seekers to the conference – including Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, New Zealand, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Iran.

According to Fachir, recommendations from the discussions on irregular migration will be brought before a Bali Process ministerial conference in early 2016.

“The results of the Bali Process will be taken to the UN conference in Geneva at the end of next year,” he added.

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