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January 5, 2012


by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

A group of Tamil refugees in Indonesia, recognized as refugees by the UNHCR, but rejected by the Australian government now say they have little choice but to get on a boat to get to safety in Australia.

The Tamil refugees are part of the group of 254 taken to the port of Merak by the Indonesian navy at the request of then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in October 2009. More than two years later, having spent a year in detention and being found to be genuine refugees, the Australian government has turned its back on 40 Merak Tamils despite being referred to Australia by the UNHCR.

Most of the refugees are now living in Medan, but out of 134 Merak Tamil refugees still in Indonesia, only three families have been accepted.

The rejection has angered the Tamil refugees. They are already boycotting English and computer classes in protest. A bigger protest in Medan is planned for next week.

“The refugees have been shamefully treated by the Australian government. Their plight makes a mockery of the Australian government supposed concern for the safety of refugees at sea. It is rank hypocrisy. Their policies are pushing people onto boats. There is no other way to get to safety in Australia. The Australian government should not feign surprise if more Merak Tamils get a boat to Australia, ” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

Around 50 Merak Tamils took a boat to Christmas Island in 2010, and around 25 of them already have Australian protection visas.

“In 2009, then Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor, and other Ministers said that Australia would help resettle the Merak Tamils. Successive governments have reneged on that promise. They simply don’t care about the lives of refugees – neither those that are left in limbo in Indonesia nor those that lose their lives trying to get to Australia,” said Rintoul.

Two other Merak Tamils drowned attempting to get a boat to Australia in June 2010.

“There is no justice. We have been very patient for over two years, but we are losing patience. We were processed by the UNHCR,” Nimal, one of the Tamil refugees in Medan told the Refugee Action Coalition, “There is a big risk for us to get a boat to Australia. But are left with no choice. Is the Australian government is trying to kill us?”

“The UNHCR and the Australian government has let us down. We were promised that we would be resettled within a year. There is no future for us in Indonesia,” said Nimal.

The Australian government’s rejection of the Tamil refugees is also a slap in the face of the Indonesian government which has repeatedly requested Australia’s assistance to resettle the Merak Tamils. The head of Indonesia’s Diplomatic Security, Dr Sujatmiko, told the media in April 2010, “We need Australian people, the Australian government to help them.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713.

Interviews with representatives of the Merak Tamils can be arranged.

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