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Rohingya asylum seekers forced out of Timor

Dili Weekly - July 26, 2013

The Timorese police threatened to shoot the group of asylum seekers then misled them to get them to leave on a boat to Indonesia, according to one of the asylum seekers.

The 95 asylum seekers and four Indonesians arrived off the coast of Viqueque on July 1 after they had trouble with their boat, which was on route to Australia.

Rafi Yosuf Zaw Win, a representative of the group, told the TDW over the phone that police in Viqueque threatened to kill the group if they stayed in Timor-Leste.

"They said we have an issue, you have to leave the country or we'll shoot you. I asked them not to do it at sea, if you do want to kill us, do it here," he said.

Zaw Win said they wanted to seek asylum in Timor-Leste, but instead they were driven to a port where they were told a boat had been arranged to take them to Australia.

"The Timorese government and maritime police said they arranged a boat and the boat would take us to Australia, but then they said there was no option and they could only send us to Indonesia," he said.

The asylum seekers, from Bangladesh and Myanmar, say they entered Australian waters and made a distress call but rough seas pulled them back towards Timor-Leste.

Maritime police took the group to a village on Wetar Island on July 11. Zaw Win says on July 13 the Indonesian military then took them to the remote Liran Island, which is 12km northeast of Atauro Island, but they are yet to receive any humanitarian assistance.

"The community here are very poor but they're helping us with rice and they gave us a place for the women to sleep in their homes," said Zaw Win.

He called for humanitarian and medical assistance, especially for one woman who is heavily pregnant and due to give birth soon.

Former President Dr Jose Ramos-Horta, in an editorial earlier this week, pleaded for Prime Minister Xanana Gusmao and President Taur Matan Ruak to "let these unwanted, persecuted people stay in our country."

"Timor-Leste must never turned its back on people fleeing hunger and wars," wrote Dr Ramos-Horta in the Huffington Post editorial.

"We too were refugees once, we fled our country, we fled poverty and persecution and we were sheltered by kind, caring people, who taught us about solidarity, about humanity."

Advocacy Coordinator of the human rights organization HAK, Sisto Dos Santos, raised concerns about the treatment of the refugees and the way the Timor-Leste government restricted access to information.

"We consider that we've forgotten our solidarity as human beings. In the past, conflict happened in our country, but since independence we've forgotten our responsibility as human beings," he said.

Mr Dos Santos said HAK and other civil society organizations would write to the Prime Minister and President to raise concerns about the issue.

UNHCR regional spokesperson Vivian Tan said the UNHCR had been unable to access the group to verify their needs.

"UNHCR is advocating with the Indonesian authorities to urgently transfer them to a more accessible location where they can receive the immediate care and assistance they need," she said.

Secretary of State for Security Francisco Guterres refused to make a statement until he received a response to a letter he sent to Australia on the issue.