Three Vietnamese families returned by Australian authorities last year after they tried to illegally migrate there are now being held in Indonesia after fleeing Vietnam a second time by boat, a woman in the group said.
"Our boat engine was broken after 12 days at sea when we were still in Indonesia’s waters. Indonesian police and local people helped us," Tran Thi Lua told RFA's Vietnamese Service in a brief interview on Friday. She did not identify where in the archipelago nation the families were staying.
"I asked them not to return us to Vietnam. I showed them proof of our imprisonment and they told us that they would not return us to Vietnam. But they said they have to wait for their boss’s decision," she said. There was no immediate comment from Indonesia on the case.
The families of Lua , Tran Thi Thanh Loan and Tran Thi Phuc, six adults and 12 children, left Vietnam on Aug. 31, Lua's lawyer said last week.
All three families fled to Australia in 2015 but were returned to Vietnam the same year where some of them were sentenced to a total of six years in prison by a court in Binh Thuan province on Vietnam’s southeast coast, Attorney Vo An Don wrote on social media on Feb. 3
This time Loan left with her four children because her husband is still in prison, Don said. She was sentenced to 36 months in prison, and her husband who was sentenced to 24 years is still serving his term, Don said last week.
"I am looking for a refugee status in Australia because the Vietnamese communists, the government of Vietnam, imprisoned my husband and me," Lua told RFA. ""After he is released I will have to serve my sentence. That is why I myself and Loan, whose husband is now in prison, are very worried."
Lua was sentenced to 30 months in prison, but her and Loan’s prison sentences have been put on hold for one year and will resume in July, Don said last week.
"Our children may not be able to go to school. I asked them to let my children go to school but they refused," Lua said.
She told RFA that she learned from her lawyer, Don, that "Vietnam has issued a national arrest warrant for us."
Vietnam and Australia signed a new memorandum of understanding (MOU) on human smuggling last year to counter irregular migration by Vietnamese “boat people” who try to enter the country illegally in search of work.
The Australian government takes a zero-tolerance stance on boat people under its Operation Sovereign Borders policy.
Other Vietnamese “boat people” who were caught and returned to the country by Australian authorities last year are serving longer sentences under Article 349 of a new penal code approved by Vietnam in July 2016, which pertains to “organizing for others to flee the country illegally.”
Reported by RFA's Vietnamese Service. Translated by Viet Ha. Written in English by Paul Eckert.