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December 21, 2009

Refugees tell Australian government, “Act compassionately–there is no Indonesian Solution”

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release December 21
As Tamil Oceanic Viking refugees arrive in Australia, those on the boat at Merak and in immigration detention in Indonesia have called on the Australian government to act compassionately and guarantee their processing and re-settlement in Australia.

“We are the same as the people on the Oceanic Viking,” said Alex, from the boat at Merak. “We have been waiting since early 11 October.  The Australian government personally phoned the Indonesian president to intercept our boat. If we had been treated the same as those on the Oceanic Viking we would have been processed by now. But now, 31 children will be spending Christmas on the boat.”

Asylum seekers in immigration detention in appalling conditions in central Jakarta have also asked the Australian government to intervene in their cases.  Nine Afghan men, including one who has been there 15 months, are in a cell, three by five metres.

The Afghan detainees asked Australian refugee activists visiting the Jakarta detention cells why the Australian government signed the Refugee Convention if it was not going to give refugees protection.

The twelve Tamil detainees from the Merak boat in the second immigration cell said, “Some of us already have UNHCR refugee status, but we are being treated like criminals. Some of us have been threatened with deportation. We were told that we would see the UNHCR but we haven’t seen them. We need Australia’s protection.”

Four of the Tamils were detained by the Indonesian police after they left the Merak boat, some seeking medical attention, last Thursday. One of them left Sri Lanka in December 2008, after his brother was arrested as an LTTE sympathiser and he also began to be harassed.

The refugee activists were shocked by the conditions in which the Tamil and Afghan men are being imprisoned. The Tamils cell is a triangular hole barely three by ten metres, holding twelve men.

“It is no better than a cage,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refuge Action Coalition. “They get only two meals a day, and fruit only once a week. They sleep in rosters, because there is so little room.  They are not allowed out to exercise.”

“This is the reality of the Indonesian solution,” said Ian Rintoul. “The interception, detention and mistreatment of asylum seekers is being funded by the Australian government.  Sri Lanka is still unsafe.  If these people were on Christmas Island, at least they would be in tents and be able to walk around. There would certainty for resettlement.

“Kevin Rudd needs to make another phone call,” said Ian Rintoul, “This time to let the Indonesian president  know that Australia will live up to its obligations under the Refugee Convention and resettle the asylum seekers stranded in Indonesia.”

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