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Fair Approach To Boat Refugees

Fair Approach To Boat Refugees

On Saturday 9 June, a group of Tamil asylum seekers suspected to be heading to New Zealand were intercepted in Indonesian waters by the Indonesian Maritime Police. The group of 85, who have asked New Zealand for asylum, have refused to leave the boat and are currently moored off the port of Tanjung Pinang in the Riau Islands.

Prime Minister John Key said on Monday, that the asylum seekers are “not welcome” in New Zealand and that accepting a boat load of Sri Lankan asylum seekers would “open the flood gates” to "millions of others''. However, this opinion is different to Minister of Immigration Jonathan Coleman who indicated that there was “no concrete evidence” that the Tamil asylum seekers were trying to reach New Zealand.

New Zealand’s geographical position means that it is highly unlikely that boats will reach our shores; an opinion Former Prime Minister and current head of United Nations Development Program Helen Clark agrees "It's a very very long trip from South East Asia or from South Asia, for that matter, to New Zealand over very difficult seas," she told TV3. "So just the sheer logistics."

We, New Zealand Sri Lanka Forced Migrants’ Support Group have been working with Sri Lankan Tamil refugees and assisting them to integrate into New Zealand’s way of life and become productive citizens. There is strong evidence that indicates that Tamils in Sri Lanka are escaping persecution and are often faced with so much danger that they have no choice but to take the boat. The level of desperation is highlighted by the fact that Tamil asylum seekers were willing to travel through rough seas and face danger for the hope of protection from a country will grant them refugee status.

There's a misperception that there is a queue for the 20 million existing refugees and asylum seekers. UNHCR head, Richard Towle said in an interview “the simple fact, there isn't actually a queue, there never has been”

New Zealand is signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees as well as to its related 1967 Protocol. Therefore, we, New Zealand Sri Lanka Forced Migrants’ Support Group (NZFMSG ) urge the New Zealand Government to fulfill their international obligation to properly assess the claims on a case-by-case basis to determine if the 85 Tamil asylum seekers are genuine refugees.

We therefore call upon the New Zealand government to act now and save the lives of the refugees on that boat. We extend our support to the refugees and willing to work with New Zealand government for any assistance.

Nirmalanathan Subramanim President, New Zealand Sri Lanka Forced Migrants’ Support Group

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