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Asylum Seekers Adrift on Australian Boat

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Photo shows Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were caught in Indonesian waters while trying to sail to Australia, 26 Oct 2009
Photo shows Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were caught in Indonesian waters while trying to sail to Australia, 26 Oct 2009
The 78 Sri Lankans were plucked from the sea by an Australian navy vessel more than a week ago, as they were attempting the journey from Indonesia's Sumatra Island to Australia.

Indonesia agreed to accept the group on humanitarian grounds after a visit by Australia's Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

But the boat has been idling in Indonesian waters, awaiting instructions and coordination between Indonesian authorities.  On Tuesday it was scheduled to dock at the Riau Island's port of Kijang.

But the governor of the Riau Islands refused the boat permission to land. He says unless he receives a direct order from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the Sri Lankans will not be allowed to leave the vessel.

The governor's spokesman, Irmasyah, who goes by one name, says there are concerns the islands will become a dumping ground for refugees

"We do not want our region to become a shelter," he said.  We are worried because we do not know how long they will stay or how we will take care of them.  Also we are concerned that our people may protest their presence."

Australian Prime Minister Rudd is reported to have proposed a so-called "Indonesia solution" to the problem of escalating illegal boat arrivals on Australian shores.  The plan involves Australia funding facilities to house and process refugees in Indonesia.

Indonesia's President Yudhoyono is expected to visit Australia sometime next month for further negotiations.

More than 40 boats carrying refugees seeking asylum in Australia have been intercepted this year, a sharp increase from previous years.  Australian opposition politicians say the increase is the result of Mr. Rudd's decision to end the mandatory detention of boat people.  But his government says conflicts in Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Afghanistan have caused the surge.
 


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