Surabaya. All 66 asylum seekers rescued on Sunday from a remote East Java island managed to escape on Monday amid confusion over where they would be held.
The asylum seekers, stranded for seven days on the tiny islet of Goagoa, east of Sumenep district, were rescued on Sunday evening and escorted under heavy police guard to the provincial capital, Surabaya.
But officials in Surabaya were overwhelmed with the influx, saying the detention facility at the city’s immigration office could only hold about 30 asylum seekers in six cramped cells.
“As an alternative, we agreed to rent hotel rooms for asylum seekers traveling with their families,” said Dwi Widodo, head of the immigration office.
But with that suggestion, he said, other asylum seekers also requested placement in hotel rooms, sparking confusion among the authorities.
“As we were transferring them from the Coast Guard headquarters to the detention facility and the hotel, there were arguments,” Dwi said. “Many of them insisted that they be moved to a hotel. Taking advantage of the heated situation and the limited number of immigration officials, the asylum seekers escaped.”
Dwi would not explain why his officials failed to capture any of the asylum seekers, who were presumably weak after days on a deserted island without proper food.
Coast Guard officers said they were unauthorized to help prevent the escape.
“We couldn’t do much because they were not our prisoners or criminals,” said Adj. Sr. Comr. Soelistyo, chief of the East Java Coast Guard’s enforcement division, adding that his officers could have only stepped in if the asylum seekers vandalized property or attacked officers.
“When the argument erupted, there was one who threatened to ransack the Coast Guard headquarters,” he said.
“But it never happened, so we couldn’t do anything to prosecute them.”
The escape is a fresh blow to the country’s immigration office, after 23 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar escaped on Wednesday from a temporary shelter in Bogor. Authorities said they left while the shelter’s six guards were not watching.