8 Jun 2015

Claim officials paid for boat to leave

8:14 am on 8 June 2015

A refugee in an Indonesian detention centre says Australian officials paid the crew and captain of the boat he and others were on to take them away from Australia.

Sixty-five refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar have said they were heading for New Zealand last week when they ended up shipwrecked and detained in Indonesia.

Refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are seeking asylum in New Zealand.

Refugees from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar are seeking asylum in New Zealand. Photo: Supplied

Nazmul Hassan, from Bangladesh, said he is one of the group detained in the Indonesian province of West Timor.

Mr Hassan said earlier in the journey, when they were in Australian waters, maritime authorities spent several hours talking to the boat's captain and crew, after which the captain was seen putting Australian money into his pocket.

He said at least $A7200 was paid to the captain and crew for each passenger. Mr Hassan said Indonesian authorities later confiscated much of that money.

Radio New Zealand has contacted the Australian Department of Immigration and Border Protection for comment, but it has yet to respond.

Twelve days after they set off, destined for New Zealand, Mr Hassan said they were stopped by Australian officials.

"They leave a notice for us saying 'never try come to Australia for settlement and never use Australian waters to go to New Zealand'. We were in international waters, that's why they went back."

Five days later, near North Australia, they encountered Australian officials again who asked to speak to the captain.

"They took him away to their customs boat. After five to six hours in a meeting, they came back again and arrested all of us. After two days there, the took us somewhere inside Australia [waters], we didn't know that place because our phones and everything were taken away.

"What they told the chief captain I don't know. But after he came back, he called another five captains and say that Australia wanted to donate for us to go back to Indonesia."

The group of 54 Sri Lankans, 10 Bangladeshis, and one from Myanmar were separated and put on two smaller boats. Each boat was stocked with food and enough fuel to reach Indonesia, Mr Hassan said.

The group is comprised of 54 Sri Lankans, 10 Bangladeshis and one from Myanmar.

The group is comprised of 54 Sri Lankans, 10 Bangladeshis and one from Myanmar. Photo: Supplied

Last week, the ABC reported the boat was intercepted by an Australian border patrol after setting off from West Java on 5 May, citing an official on Rote Island, West Timor, where the refugees were being held.

The asylum seekers told police they were transferred onto a more seaworthy wooden boat, given dried fruit, biscuits, fuel and life jackets and escorted back to Indonesian waters, where their boat hit a reef. The passengers found by fishermen and were transferred to Kupang in West Timor.

Mr Hassan said he was among a group at a Kupang detention centre and and they were "mentally very upset."

"There are many problems and we're under pressure so we really expect support from the New Zealand Government."

He said they had no idea how long they would be there.

Mr Hassan said they had heard New Zealand was a place that welcomed refugees.

"We have many problems in our country like political violence," he said. "We got some information that the New Zealand Government really supports refugees. He [Prime Minister John Key] has opened a 750 refugee quota for every year. We also know that in New Zealand it is a better life; there is no violence.

"Our journey is only for New Zealand and our destination is only for New Zealand. We hope he'll give us a chance to resettle in New Zealand and secure a peaceful life for us."

In a letter seen by Radio New Zealand, the group makes a plea to the Government for asylum, saying it was unsafe for them to return to their home countries.

A spokesperson for Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse said the group could not claim asylum without being in New Zealand, but they could ask the Australian government for help.

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