26 Burmese 'Shipwrecked' on Timor Leste

By Meagan Weymes 9 April 2012

DILI, Timor Leste—An investigation is underway into the case of 26 Burmese asylum seekers who were on a boat that ran out of fuel en route to Australia, landing near East Timor.

The boat, with 26 Burmese asylum seekers and an Indonesian captain, left Indonesia on March 21 but ran out of fuel on March 27 near Wetali, on the south coast of East Timor, according to the East Timorese Prosecutor-General’s dispatch document on the case.

The document states the 26 asylum seekers, ranging from 14 to 46 years old, left Indonesia “without identity documents or passport” with the intention of looking for work in Australia.

The Indonesian captain reportedly swam to shore but the 26 asylum seekers, who could not swim, stayed on the boat until an East Timorese fisherman helped them get to dry land.

“This Timorese fisherman took them to report to the Uhakae village head Mr. Augusto da Costa Soares, then took them immediately to the Viqueque police station,” the document said.

The East Timorese procurator-general said that immigration police officials could “promote or execute the expulsion of the 27 citizens that have entered and stay illegally in the national territory of Timor Leste.”

Timor Leste’s Department of Immigration Chief Investigator Alfredo Abel said that since the incident the asylum seekers had been staying in hotels or apartments in Dili, organized by the Immigration Department.

“Now there is an investigation going on to find a solution for the 26 people,” Abel said.

The International Migration Organization is assisting the East Timorese government to provide humanitarian assistance to the asylum seekers.

Abel said a decision was pending on whether to expel the asylum seekers.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship said the 26 asylum seekers had lodged no applications with the department.

So far in 2012, 18 asylum-seeker boats have entered Australian waters, while last years total was 69, the spokeswoman said.