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Monday, March 30, 1998 Published at 11:59 GMT 12:59 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Refugees break into Malaysian UN office
image: [ Seeking refuge: the immigrants who burst into the UN compound publicise their case ]
Seeking refuge: the immigrants who burst into the UN compound publicise their case

Fourteen illegal immigrants from Indonesia have broken into the office of the United Nations refugee agency in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, in a bid to escape deportation.

They smashed their way through the gates of the office with a truck and then asked for protection. They are believed to be some of the 250 immigrants who escaped from a detention camp in Negeri Sembilan after Malaysian police began deporting illegal immigrants on Thursday.

[ image:  ]
At least nine people died when some of the deportees fought back against the police. It is thought the 14 immigrants now in the UNHCR compound originate from the Indonesian province of Aceh.

A UN refugee agency official, Gottfried Koefner, said his office was in touch with the Malaysian authorities to find ways to settle the matter. "(The) UNHCR will investigate the background of the Acehnese, to certify that they are refugees and not illegal migrants," he said.

Mr Koefner, however, said the investigation procedure was expected to take some time. "If they need protection, UNHCR will try to find out if it is justified.

"Until the investigation is over ... we will not ask them to leave the building."

[ image: A mother and child await deportation]
A mother and child await deportation
Many Acehnese say they are political refugees from a conflict between separatists in the Indonesian army eight years ago and that they face possible mistreatment if they are sent back.

Several years ago, the United Nations declared the Acehnese people refugees, enabling them to enter Malaysia and apply for political asylum.

Mr Koefner said the UNHCR would highlight the need to make a distinction between the illegal Indonesian immigrants and the Acehnese refugees.

"We understand the concern of Malaysia having an influx of illegal Indonesian immigrants and the two get mixed up," he said.

Indonesia's economic woes

Most of the Indonesians who have arrived recently in Malaysia are believed to be economic migrants seeking work.

Malaysia has come under pressure from human right groups to freeze the repatriations after the riots, but say they can no longer afford to play host to the growing numbers of people fleeing the economic crisis in Indonesia.

More than 1,000 have already been expelled with the deportations expected to continue throughout this week.

In Port Klang, south of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysian security forces began loading illegal immigrants onto boats to be sent back to Indonesia.

"We are planning to deport 319 illegals today," an immigration officer said. Indonesia is sharing the cost of repatriating the immigrants.

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