Sri Lankans insist on reaching New Zealand

The Lankan asylum seekers were refused entry to New Zealand after being intercepted in Indonesia.

Last Updated: Jul 13, 2011, 10:20 AM IST

Tanjung Pinang: Scores of Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were refused entry to New Zealand after being intercepted in Indonesia are now refusing to leave their boat, officials said on Tuesday.

The group of 87 people, including about five children, were demanding they be allowed to continue their journey to New Zealand where they intend to seek protection as refugees, an Indonesian official working on the case said.

They are refusing to cooperate with Indonesian authorities who are trying to convince them to leave their steel-hulled boat, currently moored off the port of Bintan Island, near Singapore.

"The 87 Sri Lankan migrants have refused to be placed at the immigration detention centre in Tanjung Pinang," said local human rights official I Gede Widiarta, referring to the main town on Bintan.

"All of them are still in the boat, they insist on reaching New Zealand."

The migrants were waving New Zealand flags and holding signs that read "Our future life is in New Zealand" and "We like to go to New Zealand" when their boat was intercepted near Bintan at the weekend.

But New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Monday the Sri Lankans were not welcome, because they had engaged people smugglers and were trying to jump the refugee "queue".

He also said New Zealand did not want to start accepting boatloads of undocumented migrants because it would open the floodgates to "thousands and thousands of other boats".

He said New Zealand would take a "humane view" on the boatpeople if they reached its territorial waters, but until then the "message is a very clear one -- we don`t want people coming to New Zealand in this form".

Indonesian officials said the asylum seekers were demanding to be interviewed by the UN refugee agency but this had yet to be arranged.

A naval official in Colombo said the boat did not set off from Sri Lanka, but probably from a Southeast Asian nation.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, he said Sri Lankan illegal migrants usually travelled to neighbouring India and then to Singapore or Malaysia via commercial aircraft.

They then joined people smuggling groups in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Indonesia is a key staging post for asylum seekers, mainly Sri Lankans and Afghans, who pay people-smugglers to arrange the perilous sea journey to Australia.

More than 200 asylum seeker boats have landed on Australian shores in the past two years, mainly in the north of the country closest to Indonesia.

New Zealand is considerably further away from Indonesia and few if any people smugglers have attempted to deliver their human cargo there until now.

Bureau Report