Sat, Jan 24, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Indonesia denies UN access to boat people in Aceh


Indonesia has denied requests by the UN refugee agency for access to 193 Myanmar boat people stranded in the westernmost province of Aceh, the foreign ministry said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said the boat people appeared to be part of about 1,000 refugees from Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority held and later released by the Thai military late last year.

The Myanmar boat people were found adrift off Sabang island in Aceh province on Jan. 7 and are now being sheltered at the naval base.

“From information we have collected, it appears that they are economic migrants,” Faizasyah said.

Faizasyah said the foreign ministry could not involve the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) because the Myanmar refugees were not believed to be political asylum-seekers.

But he said the International Organization for Migration was involved in the verification of the boat people’s status.

The spokesman said the ministry would decide next week on what to do with the boat people.

“Deporting them is an option,” he said.

The UNHCR had sent two written requests to the foreign ministry to be allowed access to the boat people, UNHCR Indonesia spokeswoman Anita Restu said.

“We want to have access to them because they need international protection,” she said.

The BBC reported on its Web site that the UN refugee agency was awaiting a response from the Thai government over its request this week for access to 126 Rohingya asylum-seekers still being held in southern Thailand.

Last month around 1,000 Rohingyas were towed out to sea and set adrift by the Thai military, the BBC said, citing accounts from survivors who reached India and Indonesia. Hundreds were missing, feared dead and Thai officials said they were investigating.

Nearly 650 Rohingya have been rescued in waters off India and Indonesia this month, but Jakarta has not allowed independent access to the people in its care to confirm they are from the same group allegedly abandoned off Thailand.

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