Two hundred and fifty five asylum seekers from Sri Lanka have been forced to live in a small wooden boat in Indonesia since October 11th. The Tamil-speaking refugees were fleeing for their lives from Sri Lanka where a quarter of a million of their people are currently suffering in so-called “refugee camps”, in reality concentration camps.
The Tamil Solidarity campaign in association with others is calling for people around the world to send letters and emails of protest to Indonesian embassies’ around the world to support the refugees and their demands for their right to asylum in Australia.
Fleeing for their lives
The refugees originally went to Malaysia hoping to find asylum there, however they were informed that any Tamils living in Malaysia would be considered members of the terrorist LTTE organization by the Sri Lankan government. As well as this, the refugees were told that since the Malaysian government had not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, they would not be given their rights as refugees. Hence, they decided to leave Malaysia on October 1, 2009 and try to sail to Australia in a wooden boat in the hope for a better life.
After over a week of sailing they were intercepted by the Indonesian Navy, and taken to the port of Indah Kiat in Indonesia. This is inline with the so-called “Indonesian solution” policy of the Australian government, where the Australian government funds the detention of asylum seekers in Indonesia, which, unlike Australia, has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a system for dealing with asylum seekers or refugees.
This meant the refugees were rightly fearful that the Indonesian government would try to deport them back to Sri Lanka where there lives would be at risk, rather than allowing them to get to Australia and apply for refugee status. Instead of going quietly, they refused to leave the ship and instead demanded to meet with the UNHCR to discuss their fate and the protection of their rights as refugees. They also are demanding that they be allowed continue their journey.
Shocking conditions of the refugees
However the Indonesian government has refused point blank to allow the UNHCR to visit the refugees, and has also banned any media from meeting them and reporting their story. In a letter from the refugees themselves they explain their situation since arriving in Indonesia:
“For the last month we have been waiting on the boat at sea with all sorts of difficulties and still we have not received any favorable outcome either from Australia or any country that respects human rights. The UNHCR, which is supposed to be an international organisation that looks after the plight of the refugees, has not only refused to recognise us as refugees, but has refused to treat us as human beings. This causes us immense suffering. We are also worried and afraid of the effect that the changes in the climate will have while we are still at sea.”
Now those that change in weather is really starting to put them in danger, with heavy rain falling on the boat which only has tarpaulin roof, torn in several spot which doesn’t cover all the room. Despite the fact that more 30 of those on the boat are suffering from diarrhea and other illnesses, food and medical supplies have been denied to them. When food has been supplied it has been of terrible quality, sometimes with worms, small stones or even in one case a needle in it.
The refuges have also found no help from the so-called “international community”. For instance, Britain’s special envoy to Sri Lanka, Labour Party MP Des Browne supported the Australian and Sri Lankan governments and announced that: “We take the view that it is safe to return people, including Tamils, to Sri Lanka”.
However they have got support from the Tamil Solidarity campaign and the Committee for a Workers’ International (the international organization the Socialist Party is in). The Tamil Solidarity campaign has linked in with the refugees and made this a key campaign of theirs, and the website of that campaign, http://www.tamilsolidarity.org is a great source of information on the situation. Members of our sister parties in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and Australia have been in contact and given support to the Tamils, with the Socialist Party of Australia highlighting the issue in Australian media.
We urge everyone to support the Tamil refugees and their demands (see below), and to send protest letters and emails to the Indonesian embassy in London (which has responsibility for the Republic of Ireland as well as the UK):
Post: 38, Grosvenor Square , W1X 9HW, London , United Kingdom
Demands of the refugees:
- The Indonesian government must immediately open humanitarian aid access from the people of Indonesian to the Asylum Seekers.
- The Indonesian government must stop banning media coverage of the Asylum seekers condition.
- The Indonesian government must allow the Asylum seekers to meet with the UNHCR.
- The Indonesian government must stop becoming a puppet regime for the Australian government’s “Indonesia Solution”.
- The Indonesian government must give protection and humanitarian aid to the Asylum seeker in the form of:
- Protection and accommodation while they are in Indonesian territory.
- No limitation for their rights of mobilization.
- The Indonesian government must signs the UN Convention on Refugees.
They have also requested support from people around the world by:
- Urgently sending letters, faxes, and phoning your closest Indonesian embassy
- Holding a demonstration around the country on the 5th December 2009.