Two ships owned by an international group of religious organisations are drifting in the South China sea, with a load of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees on board.
Two ships owned by an international group of religious organisations are drifting in the South China sea, with a load of Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees on board. They have been turned away by gunboats from Malaysia, although the refugees hope it will be Australia.
SYNOPSIS: One of the vessels is the 130 foot, former second World War minesweeper, Roland. It's currently drifting in international waters off Malaysia. More than 300 Vietnamese refugees are crammed on board. Some of them were picked up from about 20 small fishing boats and have been stranded on the high seas for more than a year. Most were told if they left their crafts they would be taken to Australia.
Originally, the World Conference on Religion and Peace hoped that by transferring the Vietnamese to larger ships, world attention would be focused on their plight and richer nations, like Australia, would accept them. But Australia says organised attempts to flood the country with refugees might force its government to be less lenient in its attitude to unofficial arrivals.
This Malaysian patrol boat forced the Roland out to sea again earlier this week when it tried to land at a southern Malaysian fishing village. And, with 80,000 Indo-Chinese refugees now in camps in Thailand and Malaysia, no government is prepared to grant them more than temporary assistance.
At a United Nations-sponsored conference in Malaysia this week, Australia offered to take an additional 150 refugees as part of a resettlement programme, involving several countries. That number would include some from the Roland and government officials have been quoted as saying that's not Australia's final response to the refuge?? programme. Further discussions are to be held to decide that.
Meanwhile, conditions on the crowded decks are difficult for the refugees. Water is strictly rationed and the diet is monotonous. Some complain about the lack of medical supplies.
While the wrangling continues over the ship's final destination, the main anchor is being repaired and the tanks have been filled with a month's supply of water and fuel. The owners are confident the ship would make it to Australia if necessary.