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December 23, 2010


by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release December 23, 2010

While the refugee community is still mourning the loss of at least 30 lives at Christmas Island on 15 December, today, 23 December is the anniversary of the death of another Tamil asylum seeker—a 29 year old man called Jacob Christin. The anniversary will also be marked by a ceremony held by the Tamil refugees now in detention at Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia.

The anniversary of the death of Jacob Christin throws light on the tragedy at Christmas Island and how Australian government policies push asylum seekers to take the dangerous journey to Australian.

Jacob was one of the 250 Tamil asylum seekers on the boat Jaya Lestari 5 intercepted in October at the request of then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd as he initiated what was called the Indonesia Solution. The boat was towed back to Indonesia and so began a five month stand-off at the port of Merak as the asylum seekers refused to leave the boat.

Jacob died on 23 December beside the boat, after the International Organisation Migration, the organisation funded by Australia to provide welfare for asylum seekers in Indonesia, refused to fund his stay in hospital In April this year, the remaining Tamil asylum seekers were taken from the boat and imprisoned in Tanjung Pinang.

All but nine of them (who are still waiting decisions) have now been processed by UNHCR and found to be refugees. But they are still in detention and are no closer to being resettled more than a year after their initial attempt to get to Australia.

“The fate of the Merak Tamils says everything about Australia’s punitive policies that push asylum seekers to risk the boat journey to Australia. Firstly, the boat was intercepted at Australia’s request and taken back to Indonesia. Secondly, they were victims of the Australian government’s push for Indonesia to detain all asylum seekers and remain in detention despite being found to be refugees. Thirdly, there is no sign of them being resettled despite the Australian government saying they were willing to resettle them after they had been processed by the UNHCR.

“If the Australian government was truly concerned to understand why asylum seekers get on boats, they would take a hard look at the situation of the Merak Tamils. The government’s policies resulted in them being imprisoned in appalling condition in Tanjung Pinang where they still languish,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refuge Action Coalition.

“We are calling on the government to intervene on behalf of the Merak Tamils to ensure that they are all released from detention and that arrangements are immediately made to resettle them in Australia. They always were the responsibility of the Australian government. They remain the responsibility of the Australian government. If Australia does not resettle them, they have no future. Responding to the plight of the Merak Tamils could be the beginning of new era of humanitarian policy that would address the shameful policies that persecute asylum seekers warehoused in Indonesia on Australia’s behalf,” said Rintoul.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

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