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February 6, 2010

Merak refugees face ‘evacuation’

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release February 5


Refugee activists in Indonesia and Australia are alarmed at an Indonesian newspaper report that says Indonesian immigration authorities intend to evacuate the Merak asylum seekers as early as today, Friday 5 February.

A report in a Banten provincial paper ( ka-dipindah-ke-bekasi) says that according to the Head of Banten Province Immigration, the Merak refugees are to be transferred to a warehouse in Kawasan Briket, Bekasi, an industrial area in a city south east of Jakarta.

It also says that the “evacuation” will take place prior to the Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono being in the area on the 6 February to inspect naval exercises.

“We are calling on the Indonesian authorities to refrain from using force. The report has caused great anxiety on the boat which has been in limbo at Merak for almost four months. It is not necessary to remove people from the boat to begin refugee processing. Immigration verification and UNHCR processing can happen while they remain on the boat. This can pave the way for Australia and other countries playing a role in re-settlement.

“If there was a guarantee of resettlement, the asylum seekers would be willing to disembark,” said Ian Rintoul spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“We are extremely concerned for the welfare of the Merak asylum seekers. Conditions are deteriorating and immigration authorities are preventing the delivery of medicine for the children and supplements for the woman over seven months pregnant,” said Ian Rintoul.

“We were expecting some movement to resolve the situation following the visit this week to Indonesia of Australia’s special envoy Peter Woolcott but there has been no word of the conditions placed on any transfer or the future processing and resettlement of the refugees. Australia must face up to its obligations as the signatory to the Refugee Convention in the region. The Indonesian Solution is a violation of the convention.

“We are particularly concerned that the Indonesian and Australian governments guarantee that none of the high profile asylum seekers, especially the high profile spokesperson. “Alex”, will be victimized for the role they have played representing the asylum seekers.

“We remind the authorities that there are 11 Tamil asylum seekers from Merak being held in appalling conditions in immigration cells in Jakarta. They should have put there and should be returned to the boat immediately.”

“Australian government ministers have said Australia will play a role in resettling refugees after UNHCR processing. So has the United States government. Many of the people on the boat have relatives in Canada and the United Kingdom. It is time for governments, particularly the Australian government, to be pro-active, and act to end the misery at Merak”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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