Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Indonesia: Tamil refugees in desperate situation

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Appeal from the Tamil refugees in Merak
The Socialist Party views with great alarm the developments of the last few days in relation to the Tamil-speaking refugees fighting for their rights while virtually imprisoned on their boat in the Indonesian port of Merak.

The Socialist Party is doing all in its power to publicise their plight, while governments in Australia, Britain, Indonesia and Sri Lanka try to argue that there is no problem for these men women and children if they return to Sri Lanka. We know to the contrary.

Tamil refugees in Merak

Tamil refugees in Merak

A statement by a British government minister (Des Brown) pretends that everything is OK now in the North of Sri Lanka. The Australian government says much the same and has handed over more than a billion dollars to the Sinhala chauvinist Rajapkse dictatorship. The Indonesian government has deployed the navy once again to prevent any more visits to the refugees’ boat or negotiations through international bodies like United Nations Human Rights’ Commission.

Yesterday an Indonesian navy officer informed the 254 Tamil refugees on the boat at Merak harbour that they will not allow the UNHCR to meet them. The officer also informed them that they will no longer allow any media personnel to meet them. This happened directly after Stephen Smith signed an ‘agreement’ with the Sri Lankan government in Colombo on Monday.

One of the refugees, Kumar, told the Socialist Party today “we are really worried about what will happen to us. What are they trying to hide from the media? All we want to do is tell our story”.

Appalled by this, the refugees sent out a statement (see below). They feel let down by those they believed would respect their minimum rights, such as the right to a decent life and education for their children.

The Socialist Party joins them in their disappointment and is equally appalled by their treatment. We demand that the Australian Government immediately allow them to come to Australia so that they can be processed as genuine refugees.

The following appeal letter is being sent to the governments of countries who have signed up to the UN refugee convention and also to the international media.

Appeal letter from Tamil refugees in Merak

As a result of the brutal attacks and human rights violations against the Tamil-speaking people in Sri Lanka a lot of people have lost their normal life, have lost their family, their relatives, their property and their right to education and more.

We, 254 people including children, pregnant women, the elderly and young men and women, are also a part of those people affected by the brutal war. We have suffered for years and in order to seek a better life on 1 October 2009 we embarked on a most dangerous sea journey to Australia, a country which has signed up on the UN refugee convention.

On 11 October 2009 our journey was intercepted by the Indonesian navy. Someone who claimed to be an officer from the Australian High Commission promised that he will talk to the Australian government regarding our fate and took us to Merak harbour on the island of Java. We informed them that we will not get off the boat until the Australian government grants us refugee status.

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 favourable 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.

The UNHCR must come to talk to us. We request that Australia or any other country grants us refuge. These are the basic things we demanded when we started a hunger strike. We gave up on the hunger strike when we were wrongly advised that this may be considered a threat. We do not intend to threaten anybody. All we demand is recognition of our plight and assistance. But we are not prepared to give up the fight for our rights.

Then we gathered and protested en masse which has been covered by the media around the world. But still we have been ignored. The hunger strike, the protest, everything we did has not brought us recognition from any country that genuinely respects human rights. Now we are writing this letter as another measure in the attempt to bring our plea to your attention.

We have no peace in our homeland. We have been refused our human rights and our children and young people have no future in our country. At least we want a better life for our children.

It is with great urgency that the UNHCR must come and meet us and listen to our plea. Remaining at sea, as the weather worsens, poses great danger and we plead with you that you consider our pathetic situation and that you take a favourable decision.

Signed Sri Lankan refugees in Merak

We call on all those angered by this callous treatment of fewer than 300 trapped refugees to send protests to the four embassies concerned – Indonesia, Britain, Australia and, of course, Sri Lanka.


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