DILI, East Timor, Aug 31 (Reuters) - East Timor on Friday said it was prepared to offer a temporary home to 400 mostly Afghan asylum seekers marooned in the Indian Ocean because no one else would give them refuge.
“We are a small player. If we can be the solution to this problem of course we’ll make ourselves available,” the impoverished territory’s de facto foreign minister, Jose Ramos-Horta, told Reuters in the capital Dili.
He said talks were going on between Australia, the United Nations administration in East Timor and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Geneva.
“If we are approached by the Australian government, by UNHCR, to help certainly we will be looking at this possibility of receiving the refugees favourably.”
The asylum seekers have been stranded for days on a Norwegian cargo ship which had rescued them off isolated Christmas Island as they tried to sail to Australia in an unseaworthy boat from Indonesia.
Canberra has refused to give them refuge as has Indonesia whose vast archipelago often acts as a staging post for a growing stream of asylum seekers making their way to Australia.
Ramos-Horta said East Timor would need assurances that the international community would pay for the cost of the refugees and that they would only be in the territory for a limited time.
The move is unlikely to get much welcome from the refugees, most of them from Afghanistan and many of whom had threatened to jump overboard if they were not allowed to sail on to Australia.
East Timor, which on Thursday held its first democratic election after centuries of colonial rule, shares with Afghanistan a history of violence and extreme poverty.