August 29, 2012
Mataram. The Indonesian military has secured 71 illegal immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq who were reportedly in route to Australia via West Nusa Tenggara.
“From the information gathered, these 71 immigrants from Afghanistan and Iraq were heading to Australia, and were intercepted and secured,” regional military command Col. (Inf.) Zulfardi Junin said on Wednesday.
Military officers intercepted the asylum seekers as they were traveling by bus in West Lombok from Lembar port to Kayangan port early on Wednesday. The immigrants where reportedly traveling to Sumbawa, where they planned to take a fishing boat to Australia.
Eight of the immigrants tried to escape, but were later arrested.
Zulfardi said that the military handed over the asylum seekers to the immigration office, who then placed them in a hotel in Mataram under the supervision of International Organization for Migration (IOM).
“Our duty is to secure them and hand over them to authorities,” Zulfardi said. “They are foreigners who entered Indonesian territory without official documentation, so we have to take action.”
Zulfardi also said he found it strange that the immigrants passed through Java and Bali without apparent difficulty; he added that last month, a number of immigrants made the same multi-island trek before successfully crossing to Australia.
While the military has claimed that they secured the asylum seekers, several immigrants told the Jakarta Globe a different version.
One of the immigrants, Rajib Rahimi said that five minutes before they arrived at the hotel, someone in a military uniform stepped onto the bus, and asked for money.
“Our friends were [asked] for money in different amounts — between $500 to $ 3,000 per person,” Rajib said, showing that she only had Rp 21,000 ($2) left in her wallet.
Rajib, who was given the identity of asylum seeker from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, said that she left her country three years ago, and was once jailed in Malaysia as illegal immigrant. Rajib said she didn’t know the other immigrants because they all came from different groups.
Abdul Latif, an immigrant from Afghanistan who paid $ 4,500 to be taken to Australia, also said someone in a military uniform tried to extort them. After being asked for money, Abdul said he gave all the cash he had, and said the other immigrants experienced the same treatment.
Zulfardi said he is looking into the extortion charge.
“We’re still investigating whether [military] officers were involved,” Zulfardi said. “We will take strict action if it is proven.”