Indians turned back to Indonesia after bid to reach Australia by boat

Singapore/Jakarta: An Australian maritime patrol has intercepted a new boat attempting to travel from Indonesia to Australia – the second such bid in a month after a three-year lull.

Six Indian nationals and four Indonesian crew were turned back on Thursday from Australian territorial waters at Ashmore Reef, about 600 kilometres north of Broome.

Four of the six Indian men who attempted to reach Australia from Indonesia but were sent back on Thursday.

Anam Nurcahyo, spokesman for Rote Ndao police in Indonesia’s East Nusa Tenggara province, told The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age on Friday the 10 men on board were held for four days on the Royal Australian Navy patrol ship HMAS Albany before being given a new vessel and ordered to return to Indonesia.

Their original wooden boat had set off from the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar on January 13. After being stopped, the crew members and Indian passengers from Punjab and Gujarat states, aged between 20 and 35, were arrested by local police as they approached Indonesia’s Rote Island.

Their attempt to make it to Australia comes after 13 Iraqis tried to travel by sea from Indonesia in December, only to also be discovered by Australian authorities at Ashmore Reef and sent back.

A spokesperson for the Australian Border Force said it did not comment on operational matters, but according to the monthly Operation Sovereign Borders reports it publishes online, no illegal maritime venture from Indonesia had been thwarted since January 2020.

The boat on which the Indian nationals and the Indonesian crew was ordered to return from Australian waters on.

There have been no interceptions of boats from any origin in the period but Sri Lanka, from where 183 people embarked for Australia between May and August last year at the height of a devastating economic meltdown in the south Asian island nation.

Advocacy groups say there is growing despair among the 14,000 registered refugees in Indonesia, many of whom have been stranded there for a decade.

The Indian men were turned back as hundreds of mostly Afghan refugees protested in Jakarta on Thursday, pleading to be resettled in a third country.

While Indonesia accepts asylum seekers to its shores, the country is a non-signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, giving them limited rights, minimal or no financial support and no permit to work.

Refugees protest outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta last June.Credit:AP

More than half of all refugees in Indonesia are ethnic Hazara, a heavily persecuted minority in Afghanistan, but due to declining global refugee intakes, the United Nations refugee agency says most will likely never be resettled.

The Labor government has foreshadowed increasing Australia’s number of humanitarian places from 13,750 a year to 27,000. There are also an additional 16,500 spots for Afghans over four years in response to the Taliban’s return to power in 2021.

However, an Australian ban on taking in any refugees who arrived in Indonesia after July 1, 2014 remains in place.

If it was lifted, the anticipated rise in the humanitarian quota would be “enough to bring all the refugees in Indonesia to Australia”, said Refugee Action Coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul.

“Desperation in Indonesia is driving refugees there to protest,” he said. “Their fate is in Labor’s hands.”

Numbers have swelled further in Indonesia with Rohingya refugees landing in the province of Aceh by the hundreds since late last year, fleeing violence and threats from armed gangs in camps in Bangladesh, as well as police extortion and arbitrary arrests, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh in 2017 to escape a military crackdown in Myanmar and the UN said this week at least 348 died in perilous sea journeys last year.

Dozens of others were rescued in December in Indonesia, where 644 new Rohingya refugees have been registered between since November.

Achsanul Habib, director for human rights at Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said they were not only fleeing persecution but also economic and family reasons, and were being exploited by “various irresponsible parties”.

“In this context we will just focus on the capacity of each country in the region to prevent the use of a network that ensnares refugees into their syndicate,” he said. “This is all about money.”

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