Indonesian fishermen found 35 Vietnamese asylum seekers drifting in Indonesian waters near Borneo, who said they were heading for Australia and had been at sea for nearly six weeks, a human rights official said on Tuesday November 7.
After finding the wooden boat in the Karimata Strait on October 30, the fishermen towed the refugees, including three women and three infants, to West Kalimantan province in Borneo, said Wan Menak Salimudin, head of the Justice and Human Rights Department in the provincial capital Pontianak.
“They were found on October 30 and the boat was towed to nearby village of Pagar Antimun in Ketapang District,” Salimudin said.
The refugees said they left southern Vietnam for Australia on September 19, and that their boat developed engine trouble 11 days later near Natuna Island in the South China Sea.
One of the Vietnamese, Vienh Kanh, said they were hoping to start a better life in Australia.
“We want to go to Australia because life is hard now in Vietnam,” said Vienh Kanh, 20, speaking in Indonesian. He said he learned to speak a little of the language when he was a refugee at Indonesia’s Galang Island where tens of thousands of Vietnamese refugees lived for years before being resettled in the West as political refugees in the 1990s or sent back to Vietnam. He was repatriated in early 1990.
Salimudin said the Vietnamese were taken to Pontianak, which lies about 750 kilometres (466 miles) north of the National Capital Jakarta, on Monday and that they will be flown on Wednesday to Batam, an Indonesian island just south of Singapore and not far from Galang.
“While in Batam they will be offered the chance to fly back to Vietnam, or they can make arrangements with any third country that is prepared to accept them,” he said.