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Indonesia Denies Forcing Asylum Seekers On Boat - 2001-10-25

Indonesian police are denying allegations that some officers forced asylum seekers onto a ship that later sank. But officials say they will investigate the allegations made by some survivors of the sinking.

Indonesia's national police spokesman says authorities are investigating reports that some police officers forced hundreds of asylum seekers onto a ship they did not want to board.

At least 350 people, most from Iraq and Afghanistan, died when their overloaded ship sank late Friday. Forty-four people were rescued.

Many of the asylum seekers had paid people smugglers $1,500 to get them to Australia illegally.

Some international news media have reported that some of the survivors say police threatened to shoot those who did not want to board the ship because they thought it was unsafe.

Not all of the asylum seekers are making that claim.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office is calling for an investigation into the disaster. Among the UNHCR's questions is why the boat was allowed to depart without the knowledge of local authorities.

Privately, however, some aid workers have questioned whether the survivors may be trying to draw greater attention to their plight by alleging they were forced onto the boat.

Ahmed Ali Hussein from Iraq says members of the police are linked to people smugglers. But he made no mention of being forced onto the ship.

Mr. Hussein says that some police officers went to the boat with the migrants, apparently to protect them from other police.

Thousands of asylum seekers come to Indonesia every year many hoping to then enter Australia. The UNHCR interviews many of them to see if they qualify for resettlement in other countries and are not just economic migrants.

That process takes months to complete, prompting hundreds to turn to illegal people smuggling networks.