Wed, Apr 11, 2012 - Page 5 News List

Australia says it is unable to stop asylum seekers

AFP, SYDNEY and MERAK, INDONESIA

Australia yesterday said it had no power to stop a boatload of Chinese refugees rescued in a yacht off its north coast from pressing on with their planned journey to New Zealand to seek asylum.

The 10 Chinese nationals, who say they are from the outlawed FalunGong movement, were helped by Australian authorities to reach the northern port city of Darwin after sending a distress signal from their yacht.

They reportedly set off from Malaysia a month ago and called for help in Australian waters after exhausting their fuel and supplies, but said they wished to continue their journey to New Zealand to seek asylum.

“We met in Malaysia at the UN and left Malaysia together by boat to go to New Zealand as refugees,” one of the group told ABC radio through a translator.

The 10 include a family with two children, aged six and eight, according to ABC radio, and they claim to have no sailing experience and just a handheld GPS to guide them.

Australian immigration officials have granted them temporary visas to allow them to restock their boat, but Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the government had no power to stop them from continuing to New Zealand.

The group has until Saturday, when their temporary visas expire, to decide whether they want to proceed to New Zealand.

Meanwhile, about 120 Australia-bound asylum-seekers yesterday left the tanker that rescued them at sea, after a two-day standoff with Indonesian authorities.

The ship sailing from Australia to Singapore picked up the asylum seekers, all males and mostly Afghans and some Iranians, in Indonesian waters on Sunday.

Most left voluntarily and some were dragged off by Indonesian authorities, after a dramatic scene on deck when two refugees began shouting: “We want to die, we want to die,” a correspondent said.

Earlier in the day, the refugees had said they would not disembark until Indonesia agreed to provide a vessel to allow them to continue to Australia, Indonesian officials said.

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