Mataram. Authorities are investigating claims that soldiers have been involved in extorting money from aspiring refugees after the military in West Nusa Tenggara intercepted 71 asylum-seekers from Afghanistan and Iraq who were reportedly en route to Australia.
While the military has claimed that they secured the asylum-seekers, several asylum-seekers have given the Jakarta Globe a different account of events.
One of the asylum-seekers, Rajib Rahimi, said that five minutes before they arrived at a hotel where they were to be held, a person in a military uniform stepped onto the bus and asked for money.
“Our friends were [asked] for money in different amounts — between $500 to $3,000 per person,” Rajib said, showing that she only had Rp 21,000 ($2.20) left in her wallet.
Rajib said that she left her country three years ago, and was jailed in Malaysia as an illegal immigrant.
Abdul Latif, a man from Afghanistan who paid $4,500 to be taken to Australia, also said someone in a military uniform had tried to extort him. After being asked for money, Abdul said he gave all the cash he had, and said the other asylum-seekers experienced the same treatment.
Col. (Inf.) Zulfardi Junin, a member of the regional military command, said on Wednesday that he was looking into the extortion charge.
“We’re still investigating whether [military] officers were involved,” Zulfardi said. “We will take strict action if it is proven.”
Separately, an asylum-seeker boat carrying an estimated 150 people was sinking in the Sunda Strait, the National Search and Rescue Agency (Basarnas) said on Wednesday.
Basarnas received an alert from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority at around 1:30 a.m. that a boat was in distress between Java and Sumatra.
“We received a fax from Australia in the early morning saying there was boat sinking in the Sunda Strait,” Basarnas officer-on-duty Yopi Haryadi said. “We sent two 36-meter police rescue boats at around five in the morning, and two helicopters at around 9:30, but so far there is no sign of the vessel or any survivors.”
Haryadi said the boat sent a distress signal 220 nautical miles from the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Christmas Island.
Additional reporting from AFP