Subject: KY: Vietnamese boat people spotted in E. Timor

Vietnamese boat people spotted in E. Timor

06/21/2000 Kyodo News

DILI, East Timor, June 21 --

A boat carrying eight Vietnamese men, apparently migrants bound for Australia, was spotted Monday by U.N. civilian police in East Timor, a U.N. spokeswoman said Wednesday.

The boat was seen near Com port in the far eastern part of the U.N.-administered territory, spokeswoman Barbara Reis said.

Police were alerted to the presence of the boat by locals who saw some of the Vietnamese men going ashore to try to buy fuel, she said.

Reis said officials from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) interviewed the Vietnamese, who remain on their boat, to determine their status.

"UNHCR has warned the Vietnamese of the consequences of trying to seek asylum in Australia," she said, adding they were told that after being caught entering Australian waters they would be placed in a detention center.

Australia is currently experiencing an influx of boat people, mainly from the Middle East.

According to Australia's Immigration Department, between Dec. 1 1999 and March 19 2000, 22 boats have been intercepted off the north and northwest of Australia, carrying 1,505 people from a number of countries, including China, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Bangladesh.

This is more than the combined total of illegal boat arrivals in the previous three years.

Reis said East Timor, with its own refugee problem involving repatriation of tens of thousands of East Timorese still in Indonesia-ruled West Timor, could not grant asylum to the Vietnamese refugees as it is not yet fully independent.

"It's a very complex situation," she said.

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