Indonesia: Vietnam has not Repatriated 500 Fishermen

Tria Dianti
Indonesia: Vietnam has not Repatriated 500 Fishermen Authorities guard a group of Vietnamese detained in Batam, Riau Islands province, for fishing in Indonesian waters, March 4, 2020.

Updated at 8:17 p.m. ET on 2021-05-24

More than 500 Vietnamese fishermen are stranded in Indonesia as Vietnam has not repatriated any since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indonesian officials and the fishermen told BenarNews and sister entity Radio Free Asia.

The Vietnamese detained for trespassing in Indonesian waters are scattered in detention centers near ports across the country, said Pung Nugroho Saksono, an official at Indonesia’s Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

“The number has reached more than 500 people, because it has been almost a year since they have not been sent home,” he said, adding that only ship captains are charged.

“So far, our effort has been to inform the Vietnamese by sending a note complete with a list of fishermen who have not been subject to legal proceedings. However, there has been no response at all from the Vietnamese side.”

Before the pandemic, Hanoi repatriated fishermen detained in Indonesian waters within two months, said Ahmad Nursaleh, spokesman for Indonesia’s Directorate General of Immigration.

“The Director General of Immigration has communicated with the Vietnamese side every time there are additional Vietnamese detained,” Ahmad told BenarNews. “Their number keeps increasing and there is no clarity about their return.”

Vietnam, the flag country of the seized boats, is responsible for repatriation, he said.

“We also can’t enforce their country’s policies. The important thing is we make an effort to coordinate with all related parties,” Ahmad said.

When asked if President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo’s and Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh had discussed the fishermen during their meeting last month at the Bogor Presidential Palace in West Java, Indonesian officials said they did not know.

Ahmed said that Indonesia would prefer if the Vietnamese fishermen went back.

“Basically, we want them to return home immediately, but the current situation, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, does not allow them to return to Vietnam because Vietnam itself is still on lockdown. There haven’t been any flights there yet,” Ahmad said.

In mid-December 2020, Indonesian authorities said 225 fishermen had been detained that year – but 199 of them were cleared to return to Vietnam at any time.

The Vietnamese Embassy in Jakarta did not respond to at least three BenarNews requests for comment.

‘Hard life’

Meanwhile, some of the fishermen said that, because they have been housed in detention centers in Indonesia, they have not been able to support their families back home in Vietnam.

One Vietnamese fisherman who has been held at Tanjung Pinang detention center in the capital of Indonesia’s Riau Islands province since March 2020 told Radio Free Asia (RFA) that he had not been able to provide for his young children and his parents who are in their 70s.

His parents continue to work so they can send him about U.S. $45 a month so he can buy food, he said.

“All of us at the detention center are having a hard life. Many are often hungry as we are provided with only a half bowl of rice each meal. We all want to return to Vietnam to live and earn money to support our families. It’s miserable here,” said the fisherman, who asked that his name not be used because of security concerns.

Nugroho Saksono, the Fisheries official, said the fishermen had enough to eat.

“We feed them and there are quite a lot of them. Nobody is hungry, they can eat between three and four times a day,” he told BenarNews.

In Vietnam, a woman who asked to be identified as Ms. Vy, and whose younger brother has been detained in Tanjung Pinang, said that her family had contacted her local Department of Foreign Affairs office many times.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs here said that they had sent all [the related documents] to the embassy [in Jakarta],” Ms. Vy told RFA’s Vietnamese Service.

“When I contacted the embassy, they said that we should wait. We’ve been waiting for over a year but haven’t heard back from them.”

She said many families have reached out to an unscrupulous broker to assist in efforts to free their kin.

“I heard that around 100 families of the detainees had to borrow money, some even had borrowed money from evil gangs or banks to pay the broker,” she said.

“Many are now worried that the broker has been cheating them.”

In December 2020, detainees at Tanjung Pinang sent videos of themselves to RFA to highlight their poor living conditions.

An inmate, who asked to be identified as Mr. Bien, said the Vietnamese officials had visited the detention center before the lunar New Year in early February 2021, to collect information after the videos had been published.

“Before Tet, the Vietnamese Embassy’s staff came to interview us in person. I did ask them to help all of us to return and reunite with our families soon,” he told RFA.

“The Embassy staff said they would try their best to facilitate it at the earliest possible, but so far, we haven’t seen any progress.”

In addition to Tanjung Pinang, Vietnamese fishermen were also being held at facilities in Pangkal Pinang, off the east coast of Sumatra; in Pontianak, West Kalimantan; and in the Natuna islands, according to Nugroho Aji, director of enforcement at the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries.

The Vietnamese Service of Radio Free Asia contributed to this report.


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