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February 10, 2010

After four months – and end in sight to the stand-off at Merak

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media release February 10

Refugee groups today welcomed the statement from the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, indicating that Australia will play a role re-settling the Tamil asylum seekers stranded at Merak Indonesia for the last four months.

Kevin Rudd’s comments reported in the West Australian are the strongest indication yet that an end to the stand-off at Merak is in sight. Rudd’s comments follow those recently made by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor and Immigration Minister Chris Evans that also indicated that Australia would play a role re-settling the refugees after UNHCR processing.

The boat, with over 240 asylum seekers on board, has been moored at Merak since 11 Oct 2009, after Prime Minister Rudd personally called on the Indonesian President to intercept the boat on its way to Australia. One hundred and nine of them already carry UNHCR refugee ID cards issued in Malaysia.

The shift in Australia’s position follows the recent visit to Jakarta by Australia’s special envoy on people smuggling, Peter Woolcott, to hold discussions with Indonesian officials.

“Kevin Rudd’s comments are the first step in resolving the stand-off at Merak. We hope this is the opening for urgent discussions with Indonesian authorities to secure the future for the Merak asylum seekers.

“The next step is to ensure the safety and welfare of the people on the boat and to begin the UNHCR processing. Four months of hell on top of what they suffered in Sri Lanka is more than enough,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for Refugee Action Coalition.

“The way should now be clear to provide urgently needed humanitarian aid to the people on the boat,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition. “The IOM which is funded by Australia to provide assistance to asylum seekers in Indonesia should immediately return to the boat to provide this support.

“Families with children in particular are desperate for even basic medicine – there are no antiseptic or anti-fungal treatments for example. Vitamins and food supplements for the 8 months pregnant woman are being held by Indonesian immigration authorities.

“Indonesian officials have previously assured us that will not use force at Merak and that no information will be shared with the Sri Lankan government. With a time line for resettlement we can get on to discussing the conditions for disembarkation,” said Rintoul.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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