Tamil asylum seekers given stopgap access to land not allowed to meet UN

Indonesian authorities who provisionally allowed marooned Tamil asylum seekers to come ashore before sending them back to sea have not been given access to the UN Refugee Agency.

Neither the staff of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) nor journalists were permitted to visit the group on Monday (20), rights activists in Aceh told JDS .

The boat carrying 44 Tamil refugees including women and children, drifted into the shore of the west coast of Indonesia's Aceh province on Saturday almost a week ago after their boat's engine had malfunctioned.

Following an outcry from rights groups, the Tamils from Sri Lanka have been housed in a temporary shelter on Saturday in coastal Lhoknga under the heavy guard of navy, police and community forces.

Back to Sri Lanka

Confirming the fears of local and international human rights bodies that the group of refugees on their way to Australia will be turned away, Indonesian authorities say that plans are afoot to hand them over to Sri Lanka.

"We are trying to get in touch with Sri Lanka's government to decide their fate and register them, and then send them back to their country," House of Representatives Member Nasir Djamil told journalists after visiting the group of Tamils camping about 50 meters away from the grounded boat.

Head of immigration for the department of justice and human rights in Aceh, Achmad Samadan said that the refugees will be sent back to the boat once repaired and towed to the ocean.

Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah had also confirmed that the vessel will be sent back to sea.

Visiting journalists on Saturday have recorded scenes of visibly emotional refugees pleading to the parliamentarian and officials not to send them back to Sri Lanka.

Indonesian authorities have decided to attend to the repairs following unsuccessful attempts to push the boat to sea using heavy machinery.

Crude intimidation tactics

Amnesty International has slammed Indonesian authorities for endangering the lives of asylum seekers by not allowing them to disembark for a week and firing shots on Thursday (16) when some tried to come ashore.

“Instead of deploying these crude intimidation tactics that could put the lives of men, women and children at risk, the Indonesian authorities should come together to allow them to disembark safely so the UN Refugee Agency can interview them,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty Campaigns Director for South-East Asia and the Pacific.

The Indonesian government seems to have not heeded the continuous call by human rights organisations to allow the UN refugee agency to meet the asylum seekers.

“At this point the most urgent thing from our point of view is that immediate access is given to the UNHCR,” said Lilianne Fan, international director of  Aceh based Geutanyoe Foundation, whose team on the ground witnessed the disembarkation.

The group of Tamil asylum seekers uncertain of their future told journalists that they are left with no other option than continuing with their perilous journey to Australia by sea if the Indonesian authorities fail to accept them.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.