Indonesia is probing whether 45 Iranian asylum seekers arrested Wednesday, as they prepared to undertake a hazardous sea journey to Australia, had a military escort, a police spokesman said.
The Iranians, together with five men wearing Indonesian army uniforms, were arrested in the early hours as they arrived in four vans on Java island’s western coast, Sukabumi district police spokesman Martinus Sitompul said.
“We arrested them at 3:00 a.m.,” he said. “All of them were Iranians, including 12 women and eight children.
“Five men in Indonesian army uniforms were with them and we are investigating whether they are really with the military or if they were wearing fake uniforms.”
Local media reports have alleged that asylum seekers pass through checkpoints and board boats bound for Australia with help from corrupt military or police officials.
Last December police arrested four soldiers in Indonesia after an Australia-bound boat capsized in Indonesian waters, killing nearly 200 of the 250 on board. Survivors said they had boarded the boat with help from men in military uniforms.
Police Wednesday arrested a further 103 migrants, including women and children, on a different beach in the East Java provincial district of Malang, local police chief Rinto Djatmono told AFP.
“We detained them this morning. They were on the beach waiting to board a boat to Australia. They were Afghans, Pakistanis, Sri Lankans and Sudanese. We have handed them over to immigration authorities for processing,” he said.
Australia is struggling to deal with a steady influx of asylum seekers arriving by boat, with many using Indonesia as a transit hub, boarding leaky wooden vessels there after fleeing countries such as Afghanistan and Iran.
Some 94 people are estimated to have drowned after two boats went down on the perilous sea route in recent weeks, between Indonesia and Australia’s Christmas island.