The Jakarta Post
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 government maintained its policy of refusing to say whether it had turned back undocumented migrants attempting to reach Australia by boat.
Abbott has likened Australia's operations against people smuggling to war, and border policing activities are shrouded in unprecedented secrecy.
'I'm pleased that we've now had 50 days without an illegal boat arriving in Australia, and the message is getting out loud and clear to the people smugglers and their would-be customers that the way is shut [...] you will not pass,' Abbott said.
'Yes, they're tough policies, but they're working.'
In other changes under the new government, Australia is refusing to permanently resettle genuine asylum seekers arriving by boat and will not allow their relatives to come to Australia under family reunion arrangements open to other asylum seekers.
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.
Last month, Australian officials confirmed that lifeboats had been acquired as part of a strategy to stop asylum seekers, but refused to say how the lifeboats were to be used.
Fairfax Media has reported that Australia bought 16 engine-powered and enclosed lifeboats ' similar to those carried by cruise ships and oil tankers ' for border protection duties as an alternative way of rescuing undocumented migrants found in unseaworthy vessels.
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