Madiun, East Java. The immigration officials in Madiun have recaptured a total of 55 asylum seekers from the Middle East who recently fled from a hotel being used as a temporary holding facility.
“As of Sunday morning, there are still five more who have not been found,” said Usman, head of supervision and enforcement at the local immigration office.
“At the moment we have captured 55 asylum seekers.”
He said his office had worked with police together to locate the runaway asylum seekers, searching in bus terminals, train stations and other public places.
“We couldn’t predict where they’d go because they could have gone anywhere. They could have fled the city by bus or another vehicle. And we didn’t know whether they had enough money or food to do so,” he said.
The asylum seekers were first arrested by police in neighboring Pacitan district as they headed to a fishing dock on Tamperang Beach where they were supposed to board a boat bound for Australia.
Pacitan Police have named nine Indonesians as suspects in an alleged people-smuggling ring, an officer announced on Saturday. The suspects were reportedly trying to smuggle the 60 asylum seekers when police arrested them.
The alleged smugglers drove half of the asylum seekers to Tamperang. The other half of the group was still in the neighboring district of Wonogiri when police rounded up both the smugglers and their alleged clients, police said.
Eight of the suspects are residents of Surabaya and one is from Pacitan, Pacitan Police Chief Adj. Sr. Comr. M. Agung Budijono said on Saturday.
“They’re officially suspects now and have been placed in detention for further investigation,” he said.
The asylum seekers were taken to the nearest immigration office in Madiun, where officials decided to put them up at a hotel, citing overcrowding at the local immigration detention center.
The immigration office recorded that 51 of the asylum seekers claimed to have originated from Iraq, five from Kuwait and four from Iran. Most were men, with just three women and three children in the group.
Located on the Indian Ocean coast, Pacitan is a popular hub for people-smugglers seeking to reach Australia through Indonesian waters. The smugglers often take their clients from Pacitan and Bogor down to the southern coast, where they can embark on the treacherous 480-kilometer crossing.
Agung said police were investigating whether the nine Indonesians arrested on Friday were members of an existing people-smuggling ring or a new one. Police are also investigating allegations that security officers may have been involved in the smuggling attempt.
Four Indonesian Army soldiers were arrested last December while attempting to smuggle asylum seekers from the Middle East through Popoh Beach, in Tulungagung district, and Prigi Beach, in Trenggalek district, both in East Java.
Antara & JG