Updated: Fri, 12 Apr 2013 08:15:58 GMT | By Agence France-Presse

Indonesia detains Myanmar Rohingya heading to Australia

Indonesia's navy detained 82 asylum seekers including scores of Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar when their boat ran aground as they headed to Australia, an immigration official said Friday.


The 51 Rohingya, 24 Iranians and seven Somalis had been heading from Sulawesi island, in the east of the country, to East Nusa Tenggara, one of the closest Indonesian provinces to Australia, he said.

An increasing number of Rohingya, described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, have been arriving in Indonesia as they flee Buddhist-Muslim violence which erupted in their home state of Rakhine last year.

"They were heading to Australia, as usual," immigration official Muhammad Bakri told AFP.

The boat left from southwest Sulawesi but their boat ran aground nearby and they were picked up by a naval patrol, he said.

The migrants, including several children, were taken to the nearby city of Makassar where they were being registered and questioned by immigration officials.

Bakri said the Rohingya would be kept apart from other asylum seekers following an outbreak of violence at an immigration detention centre last week in which Rohingya killed eight Buddhists from Myanmar.

"We fear something bad might happen, especially after the recent violence," he said.

Most of the asylum seekers were in good health, although two Iranian children were suffering from a skin rash and had being taken to hospital for a check-up.

The local immigration detention centre was overcrowded so extra accommodation would be rented to house the asylum seekers while their cases were being processed, Bakri said.

Indonesia is a transit hub for asylum seekers from many countries, including Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Many pay people-smugglers for passage to Australia on leaky wooden vessels.

Australia last year dealt with a record 17,202 asylum-seekers arriving by sea and has already seen more than 3,000 this year. Hundreds have died trying to make the crossing in recent years.

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