Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Lankans seek asylum in New Zealand

About 85 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, apparently on their way to New Zealand, have been detained by Indonesian police and are refusing to abandon ship.

It is understood the ship is anchored in the waters of Tanjung Pinang, after it was stopped at Bintan Island, Riau, on Saturday.

Reuters photographs show the refugees holding up signs that read: "We need New Zealand".

But Prime Minister John Key has responded emphatically: "They are not welcome".

Indonesian freelance photojournalist Yuli Seperi said the immigrants did not want to abandon the ship and were asking the United Nations to help them reach New Zealand.

"We’re going to New Zealand, please help us," cried some refugees, according to Seperi.

"We are not illegal immigrants, but refugees who will leave for New Zealand," asylum seeker Romance Radan told media.

Another refugee from the boat, who had been living in Malaysia for two years, told media that his family had been killed in Sri Lanka. "Better I die here if asked to come down from the ship."

It is understood representatives from the International Migration Organisation and Tanjung Pinang immigration were negotiating with them.

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs said they were aware of the ship, but would not provide further information.

Prime Minister John Key said he had been briefed by intelligence officials and there were some indications that a boat full of asylum seekers had been heading towards New Zealand, though that had not been "absolutely confirmed".

"I understand some of those asylum seekers were holding up New Zealand flags or signs saying they might want to go to New Zealand. Our very simple message is they are not welcome."

Key confirmed the Indonesian navy had intercepted the boat and it had been tied up in port in Indonesia, "but what happens from here I don’t know".

He understood the asylum seekers remained on board though the captain and various other people who had been navigating the boat were no longer there.

"It confirms what I’ve been saying for some time; it’s only a matter of time before large vessels, steel hulled vessels capable of navigating their way to New Zealand or Canberra or far away parts of the world, would try and make their way here."

Now that the boat had been intercepted none of the asylum seekers would be allowed into New Zealand.