Indonesian officials have refused to grant permission to an Australian ship carrying 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, including women and children, to dock on a remote island, an official said Tuesday.
The ethnic Tamils were found more than a week ago, drifting in a wooden boat whose engine had broken down. An Australian Customs Service patrol ship picked them up.
After talks between Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a presidential spokesman last week said that the Sri Lankans would be given temporary accommodation in Indonesia.
The government, however, has not granted approval for the Sri Lankans to disembark on Bintan island, according to I Gde Widiarta, a law and human rights official in Riau Kepulauan province. The island is about 625 miles (1,000 kilometers) north of the capital, Jakarta, and across the Singapore Strait from Singapore.
It was unclear what was causing the delay. The president's office was not immediately available for comment.
The Sri Lankans are the latest in a flood of thousands of people from war-torn countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq seeking better futures in Australia but arriving in Indonesia.
The vast archipelago of 17,000 islands is a logical staging point for reaching Australia, whose Christmas Island lies south of the Indonesian island of Java.
Human traffickers have been known to charge $15,000 per person for the treacherous journey, often made on boats unfit for the rough seas.
Around 250 Sri Lankans caught on another boat en route to Australia are refusing to leave their ship, which is anchored off Java.
The cash-strapped Indonesian government has limited resources for dealing with the influx of new arrivals and relies heavily on assistance from the United Nations and International Organization for Migration to feed and shelter them.