JAKARTA, November 15, 2009 (AFP) – A group of 22 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who left an Australian customs ship to come ashore in Indonesia will be allowed to stay for up to three months, an official said Sunday.
The standoff has caused a political headache for Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, who has been under pressure over increasing arrivals that have seen more than 1,600 boat people this year seeking asylum from countries such as Afghanistan and Sri Lanka.
Indonesia, which sprawls across 17,000 islands to Australia’s north, has been a key staging point for migrants being taken by people smugglers on the perilous sea journey to Australia. “We’ve given them a time frame of four weeks to at most 12 weeks to stay in Indonesia to process their refugee status. They must leave after that,” foreign ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah told AFP.
The group was among a total of 78 ethnic Tamils on the Oceanic Viking anchored off Bintan island near Singapore who had refused to leave the ship after being plucked from the sea by the Australians in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue zone last month and taken to Indonesia.
They agreed to leave by ferry for immigration detention in Tanjung Pinang on Frida