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UNHCR concerned for welfare of asylum-seekers rejected by East Timor

ABC Radio Australia - July 23, 2013

The United Nations refugee agency, the UNHCR, says it's concerned about the welfare of a group of asylum seekers stranded on a remote island in Indonesia.

The group of 95 asylum seekers strayed into East Timor when their boat broke down en route to Australia. They were evicted and are now on the remote Indonesian island of Liran, reportedly short of food and some in need of medicine.

Presenter: Karon Snowdon

Speaker: Vivian Tan, UNHCR regional spokeswoman

Tan: We've been told that there are about 95 people on this boat, that they're possibly from Myanmar and Bangladesh. There are apparently some young children and possibly a few pregnant women among them. We had heard that they are now in Wetar island in Indonesia's Maluku province. They're said to be staying in a common area and the women and children are supposed to be living with some local families. But this is a very remote and hard to reach area, and we're worried that it would be very difficult to send aid supplies that the groups needs. We're also very concerned about the wellbeing if there are pregnant women and young children among this group They may be in urgent need of medical attention, which may not be available where they are at the moment.

Snowdon: We're hearing those reports, we have spoken to one representative of the group who's still with them who's saying some people are ill with fever, there's not enough food and they're not quite sure what's happening next. The police have had intermittent contact with them. And this area of Wetar, we think it's Liran, is very small as you say remote area, that must heighten your concern for this group?

Tan: Well UNHCR has been advocating with the Indonesian authorities to urgently move this group of people to a location that's more accessible for aid workers, for UNHCR to assess their needs and their identity. So we haven't gotten confirmation so far on whether or not the group have been moved, but we hope this can happen very quickly.

Snowdon: Do you know much about the circumstances of their arrival in Indonesia? Our information also is that East Timor very quickly sent them away from East Timor, although they were seeking asylum there having landed inadvertently. Have you heard of those circumstances?

Tan: The reports I've heard are very conflicting, so basically the situation it seems very unclear at the moment about the details of this group and their journey and what their intentions are. So until we can talk to them directly, we can't really confirm what exactly happened.

Snowdon: And do you expect to be able to speak to them soon? What's your experience of the Indonesian authorities cooperation on these issues?

Tan: Well generally UNHCR has been able to access boat arrivals who are seeking asylum. I think the issue here is that this particular group is on this very remote island and it would take time for them to be moved, well to reach them first of all and for the Indonesian authorities to move them to somewhere that's more accessible. Once that happens we hope to be able to talk to them as soon as possible.