Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Iran death boat victims slipped past Jakarta visa crackdown

Iranian asylum-seekers involved in last week's West Java boat tragedy spent only one night in Jakarta, flying in on visas-on-arrival before being transported to the fatal boat, investigators say.

An Iranian party -- 64 people, all from Abadan in the country's southwest, a survivor told The Australian -- arrived on a single flight in Jakarta, apparently last Sunday.

They spent one night in the capital, in a South Jakarta apartment block, before being moved to Bogor and then to the coast, West Java police spokesman Martinus Sitompul said yesterday.

Responding to Australian pressure, Indonesian Justice Minister Amir Syamsuddin recently signed an order cancelling the visas-on-arrival facility for Iranian nationals. The order comes into effect on August 20.

The death toll from last Tuesday's sinking rose to 20 yesterday with a further five bodies found.

It now appears there were at least 209 passengers aboard the vessel, about 120 Sri Lankans and most of the rest Iranians.

The Sri Lankans were lodging in the Bogor area, about 60km south of the capital, for about a month before the operation, according to the initial police investigation.

Police have arrested four Indonesians who allegedly were involved in transporting the asylum-seekers from Bogor to the West Java coast, near Cidaun, and organising small boats to ferry them out to the fishing vessel which sank about 12 hours later.

Police are now searching for the owner of the fishing boat and a South Asian man who co-ordinated the two groups of asylum-seekers.

Lieutenant-Colonel Martinus said yesterday investigators had not gathered enough information to identify the agents responsible for the Sri Lankan and Iranian groups, or whoever put together the smuggling operation.

Sri Lankan survivors told The Australian last week their agent was an expatriate countryman now living in the Bogor area named Pathmanathan Nirubakaran.

The Sri Lankan survivors have told Indonesian police and immigration officials they had not heard of the new Australian policy denying settlement to anyone arriving by boat.

The Iranians from Abadan had heard reports of the policy in the short time following their arrival but were told by their agent in Jakarta that the reports were unfounded rumours. "All of them were saying the same things," a senior police officer in the investigation said yesterday.

The four Indonesians now in custody have been provisionally charged under Article 120 of the Immigration Law, and face jail penalties of five to 15 years.

Tuesday 30 July 2013



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