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Back on Jakarta’s front page – a calm report on the return of boat people

February 8th, 2014

Australia’s policy of turning back the boats has returned to page one coverage in The Jakarta Post.

8-02-2014 jakpost

The report is free of emotive language language.

The Indonesian Police revealed on Friday that the Australian Navy had turned back 34 undocumented migrants when their boat reached Australian waters near Christmas Island.

On the same day in Canberra, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott claimed his government’s harsh policy against unwanted asylum seekers had drastically reduced the arrival of boat people to Australia.

Pangandaran Water Police Unit chief Adj. Comr. Firman Alamsyah said undocumented migrants found stranded in a lifeboat at Pangandaran Beach in West Java told police they had been driven away from Australian waters.

“This was their [the migrants] story,” he confirmed.

Firman said 21 undocumented migrants were from Iran (three of them below 5 years old), five from Bangladesh, six from Nepal and two others from Pakistan.

They arrived in Christmas Island waters on Jan. 28 by a wooden boat, which was immediately intercepted by the Australian authorities. On the evening of Feb. 5, they were found stranded on Pangandaran Beach.

During the voyage back to Indonesia, the lifeboat was escorted to open sea by an Australian vessel, an aircraft and a high speed inflatable boat. The lifeboat then headed to Cilacap, Central Java and was eventually seized by the police.

From a sign inside the vessel, the fiberglass lifeboat carried registration number “JYB85F”. The lifeboat, with a capacity of around 30 people, was equipped with seats and safety belts. It is currently tied to a police patrol boat and is anchored.

The orange vessel is 8.5 meters long, 3.2 meters wide and 1.1 meters tall, with its top part covered, a small propeller at the back and a side door for entry. Instructions written in Mandarin and English were found inside the cabin, while the words “Lifeboat”, “Battery charger” and “Made in China” could be seen near the steering compartment.

Such a lifeboat is usually standard on large freighters and tankers. In an earlier discovery of a lifeboat in Sukabumi, West Java, the vessel was powered by a diesel motor and could travel at a speed of 3 knots per hour.

On Jan. 16, a similar lifeboat was also found on Palabuhan Ratu beach, West Java, without any passengers onboard.

The Associated Press quoted Abbott as saying that no asylum seekers had reached Australia by boat in 50 days, the longest period since 2008, describing the measures to turn them back as tough but effective.

Australian Broadcasting Corp. (ABC) reported that the Australian navy had sent 34 asylum seekers back to Java on Wednesday night in a lifeboat.

The report contains no new quotes from senior Indonesian officials but simply reports comments made earlier.

Indonesian government officials oppose Australia’s policies introduced after the Abbott government was elected last September and see them as violating of Indonesian sovereignty.

Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has spoken of the policy in negative terms. “This kind of policy of transferring people from one boat to another and then directing them back to Indonesia is not really helpful,” he told the ABC.

In a turning back the boats story from the other side of the world, the Greek paper Kathimerini reports this morning that the bodies of four more of the 12 migrants who drowned off Farmakonisi last month were recovered yesterday as a navy oceanographic research vessel helped coast guard divers locate the fishing boat in which the migrants had attempted to reach Greece. Sixteen people were rescued from the boat on January 19 but some survivors alleged that a Greek coast guard patrol vessel attempted to tow the migrants boat back to Turkish waters, causing it to sink. Greek officials deny this and a judicial probe has been ordered.

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