FSM boatpeople saga winds up
An 18-month asylum seeker saga over for Yap and FSM mulls over the lessons learnt.
Eighteen Indian men who have been stranded in the Federated States of Micronesia are to be repatriated to India in the next two weeks.
The men, along with 17 Nepalese, had been detained on Yap for more than eighteen months after they arrived by boat with no travel documents in near starving condition.
Apart from four Nepalese, all the men have been denied refugee status by the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR.
The other Nepalese have already been sent home.
Clayton Lawrence of the FSM's Department of Justice told Sally Round the government's handling of the men has helped stem a flood of future migrants to its shores.
CLAYTON LAWRENCE: We suspect that all 34 were seeking better economic opportunities. Whether those economic opportunities were in Hawaii, Guam or Australia is unknown, there's not enough facts supporting that claim. We find it highly likely they were heading toward one of those destinations though, seeking a better economic opportunity.
SALLY ROUND: I've read reports that they were swindled by human traffickers. Was that the case?
CL: We don't know exactly who the individual is that collected money and facilitated the transportation of these individuals. Most of them claim that they paid substantial amounts of money to be transported and I think they trusted that they would reach a destination for a better life, better opportunity legally. We suspect they weren't given enough fuel or food to reach a destination that they were apparently heading towards. Some of them actually thought they were in Hawaii when they landed in Yap.
SR: Why did it take so long for them to be a/ dealt with, in terms of having their status confirmed and b/ I understand, left on the wharf there in Yap, and not being able to move around?
CL: First let me say we respected the UNHCR process. If they were asylum seekers we wanted to see that process all the way through and we did and we do recognise that it took some time, we're talking, they arrived in November 2014 and the process officially just concluded about a week and a half ago, all 34. Why it took so long for UNHCR to do that, I wouldn't be able to answer it but what I do know is that FSM respected the process and didn't want to interfere with repatriating these individuals or deporting these individuals or charging these individuals until the process was complete. They were kept in Yap, in an enclosed area, guarded by security because of the security risks associated with these unknown illegal entries. We don't know who these individuals are. Our priority is the safety of the community and the people of Yap and we have a duty to protect them first and that big unknown of who they are, we didn't want to take any risks, so we kept them in a secured area and provided them with adequate amounts of food and the necessities that they needed.
SR: Obviously this throws up quite a few challenges for small island states like you doesn't it? Are you anticipating increasing numbers of this sort of migration and have you got the wherewithal to deal with it?
CL: As far as expecting more migrants to come here, I think the way we dealt with this, I think it sets the bar of whether we will and I think if we took this lightly and we accepted these individuals into the community and integrated them and let them legal entry and easily allowed them to access our community, I think you would see a flood of more coming. I think they have strong communication ties back to their home countries and they communicate everything that's going on to their home countries and I think if we did take these 34 lightly I think we would see a flood of more come in, knowing that they could be integrated into the community and maybe seek whatever they were seeking, whether that's easier access to the United States or other countries or just better economic opportunity in our community. You can never be sure that it's not going to happen again. We're ready and we will prepare ourselves for it to happen again. It's been a learning experience for the country.
SR: And what would you do differently next time do you think?
CL: Right now we're working with UNHCR, right now we're not part of the conventions on refugee status. We respected the international process of assessing whether these were in fact refugees. You know next time we have to make the determination, do we have the resources to support 34 individuals for a year and a half while they are assessed. Do we right away criminally charge them, put them in court, have them plead their case in court and deport them right away? Those are decisions that we have to make moving forward. It was a substantial burden. Much money was expended on these individuals over the past year and a half, money and resources.
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