On April 19 more than 100 refugees, who were being held on a tiny boat at the port of Merak in Indonesia, were forcibly moved to the Tanjung Pinang detention centre. After nearly 7 months on the boat they still face an uncertain future.
The refugees are now unable to communicate with their relatives and have no access to legal aid. These Tamil men, women and children fled civil war in Sri Lanka and were making their way to seek asylum in Australia in October last year.
After receiving intelligence of their immanent arrival, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and requested their boat to be stopped. The Indonesian Navy promptly intercepted the boat and hauled it back to Indonesia. This is what is referred to as the “Indonesian Solution”.
In a sign of strength and determination the refugees refused to disembark. They feared being locked up in an Indonesian detention centre or deported back to Sri Lanka. Many of the Merak refugees hold UNHCR cards acknowledging their legitimate status as refugees. Despite this they have been treated like criminals.
The demands of the refuges are modest. They want Australia, as a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, to process their claims for asylum according to its international obligations.
The ‘Indonesian Solution’ is a policy of sub-contracting the detention of asylum seekers to Indonesia, where they can languish in prison for up to ten years before being sent back to the country they fled.
Indonesia is not a signatory to the UN refugee convention. Australia is one of only a few signatories in the region, and one of the closest to Sri Lanka. It is Australia’s obligation to process and resettle these refugees. Instead, the Australian Government funds Indonesian authorities to the tune of millions each year to imprison asylum seekers with no regard for their basic rights under international law.
In March, Indonesian President Yudhoyono addressed the Australian Federal Parliament. One of the key points of discussion between Rudd and Yudhoyono during his visit was “tackling people-smuggling”. This means a continuation of the failed ‘Indonesian Solution’. Last year Australia re-settled only 77 refugees from Indonesia, while thousands remain in detention.
Shamefully, upon arrival President Yudhoyono was awarded an honorary Order of Australia for “strengthening the Australia-Indonesia relationship”, while innocent people remain in a desperate situation due to the collaboration of these two Governments.
When Kevin Rudd came to power in 2007, many people had hoped for a more humane refugee policy. This has not been the case. The cosmetic changes from Howard’s “Pacific Solution” to Rudd’s “Indonesian Solution” have not improved the plight of refugees at all.
This situation cannot be ignored any longer. What is needed is a strong community campaign to call an end to Rudd’s brutal anti-refugee policy of Indonesian imprisonment, off-shore processing and mandatory detention. Pressure needs to be maintained on the Government until this happens.
By SP reporters