Australian authorities have forced at least 16 refugees to return to Indonesia after intercepting their boat and detaining them for days.
Indonesian police said 13 refugees from India, two from Nepal and one Bangladeshi arrived ashore Thursday evening in Tablolong on Timor Island.
The asylum seekers were rescued after locals heard their cries for help, with their boat run out of fuel off the coast, Indonesia’s Antara news agency reported.
“They were yelling for help… we led them to land, then we contacted the local police,” Antara quoted Daniel Lani, a local resident, as saying.
Muhammad Anwar, a Bangladeshi refugee, said the group was turned back by the Australian navy when it reached Christmas Island last week after spending four days in detention. The boat captain said Australian authorities destroyed their vessel and then put them on another ship to head back to Indonesia.
The developments came as several countries, including Australia, held a meeting in the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, to discuss the refugee issue they are facing.
Australia’s hardline approach has sparked tensions with Indonesia, the transit point for many would-be refugees.
Hasan Kleib, a senior Indonesian foreign ministry official, expressed serious concerns over the latest incident. “We are concerned when some countries like Australia – rather than informing us or working with us – take unilateral action and push back boats,” he said.
The Australian government is under fire over the harsh policies under which it sends asylum seekers who arrive by boats to detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru Island. The asylum seekers do not have the chance to resettle on the Australian mainland even if they are found to be genuine refugees.
Hundreds of people are held in Australian-run detention centers in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.