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Tamil asylum seekers welcome

Indonesia Human Rights Committee,
20 January, 2010

Media Release: Tamil asylum seekers welcome

The Indonesia Human Rights Committee applauds the Government’s humanitarian decision to accept some 13 of the Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers previously held on board the Oceanic Viking in Indonesian waters. At the same time IHRC urges the Government to offer to accept a number of the 254 Tamil asylum seekers who are in appalling circumstances in a boat moored off the Indonesian coast at Merak, West Java.

“The way in which these desperate people, are being treated is shocking in the extreme,” said Maire Leadbeater speaking for the Indonesia Human Rights Committee. “A few have been lured ashore only to end up in Indonesian detention and being interrogated by representatives of the Sri Lankan Government they have tried to flee. Those still on board, including women and children, have limited food, and minimal access to essential medicines and health services. There is only one toilet on the boat, and one young man, died following delayed medical intervention.

“This is happening despite the fact that over one hundred of the group have previously been approved as genuine refugees by the UNHCR.”

“There is a appalling ‘stand-off’’ between Australia which directed Indonesia to intercept this boat, and Indonesia. New Zealand should be circuit breaker by upholding the UN Refugee Convention and the international principle of non-refoulement that no asylum seeker should be sent back to a dangerous situation.”

Asylum seekers cannot reach New Zealand by small boats - all the more reason why we should accept our share of the responsibility for this current crisis in our region.

The IHRC is liaising with international and Indonesian human rights groups and has appealed for a just outcome to the relevant Ministries in Indonesia and Australia as well as to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees and the NZ Minister of Immigration, Jonathan Coleman.

Letter to Dr Coleman follows

Hon Jonathan Coleman,
Minister of Immigration,
Parliament Buildings,

20 January, 2010

Dear Dr Jonathan Coleman,

We are very pleased to note that New Zealand will now accept 13 Tamil refugees who were previously held on the Oceanic Viking. We believe that it is very important that New Zealand should accept some responsibility for the resettlement of asylum seekers in our region, and commend the Government for doing so.

We hope that the Government will now take a new humanitarian initiative by offering to help place some from the larger group of Tamil asylum seekers currently moored off the coast of Java at Merak.

Please find enclosed a copy of a letter written to the Indonesia Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Minister of Immigration, concerning this situation. As you may know, some from the Merak group are currently in detention and have been interviewed by Indonesian navy representatives in contravention of international law relating to asylum seekers.

At present there is appears to be ‘stand-off’’ as to who should take responsibility which involves Australia, which directed Indonesia to intercept this boat, and Indonesia.
This stalemate is a disaster and an international human rights tragedy in the making. Those still on board, including women and children, have limited food, and minimal access to essential medicines and health services. There is only one toilet on the boat, and one young man died following delayed medical intervention.

The current wave of asylum seekers is a consequence of the devastating conflict in Sri Lanka last year as well as ongoing human rights abuses committed against Tamil civilians, thousands of whom remain in detention camps months after the war’s end.

We understand that over a hundred of the Merak asylum seekers have previously been assessed and approved by the UNHCR as genuine refugees. Others are currently unable to gain access to the UNHCR to state their case.

We believe that if New Zealand took the initiative and offered to take some of this larger group of asylum seekers, this action could well be a circuit breaker, helping to solve the impasse. This action would remind the other countries involved about international asylum law and the principle that no asylum seeker should be sent back to a situation of potential danger. The suffering of these vulnerable and defenceless people must not be allowed to continue.

Yours sincerely,

Maire Leadbeater,
For the Indonesia Human Rights Committee


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