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Sri Lankan boat people disembark in East Timor

Sri Lankan boat people disembark in East Timor

After travelling 3,000 miles and spending 40 days on a boat, 56 Sri Lankans on their way to New Zealand were finally allowed to dock and disembark in East Timor.
2 August 2002
The 56 Sri Lankan boat people have been moved to a transit centre in Dili after spending 40 days on a boat.

DILI, East Timor, August 2 (UNHCR) - After travelling 3,000 miles and spending 40 days on a boat in the Indian Ocean, 56 boat people from Sri Lanka were today allowed to disembark in East Timor.

The 14-metre boat, Cey Nor, is believed to have left Sri Lanka on June 21 for New Zealand, but stopped in East Timor on July 28 when it ran out of fuel, food and water. For five days, the boat was not allowed to dock at the port in the capital of Dili. But on Friday, the government of East Timor relented and allowed the men on board to be transferred to a transit centre in Dili, where they will receive humanitarian assistance and be interviewed by UNHCR protection staff.

None of the Sri Lankans - consisting of teenage boys and middle-aged men - has made any asylum claims yet. East Timor, a young country which achieved independence in May this year, has no asylum law or expertise in handling asylum claims, so UNHCR has offered to help process their claims should the Sri Lankans wish to claim asylum. The authorities in East Timor have agreed that any genuine refugees within the group will be allowed to integrate into the country.

A World Health Organisation (WHO) doctor who checked the men's health when they first arrived said their condition was "remarkably good" considering the cramped conditions on the boat. WHO and UNHCR treated the men for minor ailments including diarrhoea, skin infections and backache. The UN refugee agency also provided them with basic foodstuff, and drinking water when they were stranded on the boat about 200 metres offshore.