Seven Indonesians who became the first asylum seekers to reach Australia by boat in more than two years have been sent to a detention camp on an island near Indonesia, a government official said Monday. The four men, one woman and two infants who say they are from West Timor arrived in a small fishing boat on the remote northwest coast of Australia on Nov. 5 and asked locals for directions to the nearest city.
Authorities took them to the northern city of Darwin then flew them to Christmas Island, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean 500 kilometers (300 miles) south of Jakarta, last week after they asked for permission to stay as refugees, immigration department spokesman Phil Allan said.
"They were transferred to Christmas Island .... Last Thursday while their claims for protection are assessed," Allan said.
Allan said the children would be released with their parents to homes on the island within two weeks while the three single men in the group would remain in the detention center while their refugee claims are assessed. The government has a policy of removing children from detention camps.
The Christmas Island camp had been closed since July when the last of a group of Vietnamese asylum seekers left.
A fishing boat carrying 27 men, 17 women and nine children from Vietnam that arrived in July 2003 was the last boatload of asylum seekers to reach Australia.
Van Hoa Nguyen, a Vietnamese-born Australian citizen, was sentenced in May last year in the west coast city of Perth to five years' imprisonment for organizing their trip to flee persecution under Vietnam's communist regime.
The government has rejected the Vietnamese claims for protection, but it was not immediately clear if they already have been flown home, reports the AP. I.L.