Sunday November 1, 2009 7:30am WST
For Immediate Release
"The message from the 78 Sri Lankans on board the Oceanic Viking, in which they declare themselves to be registered UNHCR refugees who have been part of the thousands of others stuck for years in Indonesia, shows up the failure of John Howard's "push-back" policy of 1999-2000 onwards, as well as Kevin Rudd's Indonesian warehousing policy," WA Human Rights group Project SafeCom said this morning.
The Sri Lankans' message was given to Fairfax reporter Tom Allard yesterday evening (see report below).
"The message from the refugees shows up the inadequacy of Kevin Rudd's sinking of millions of dollars into 'people smuggling detection and disruption' in Indonesia instead of using sufficient manpower and financial investment to formulate a comprehensive resettlement plan, where Australia works together with UNHCR in Jakarta," spokesman Jack H Smit said.
"Years ago, Malcolm Fraser did what Kevin Rudd has up till now failed to do. Kevin Rudd and Chris Evans can still change their direction and implement such a resettlement plan. This plan needs to include a considerable increase of Australia's annual intake for the next couple of years to clear the backlog of claims."
"This backlog has created the untenable situation for the Sri Lankans we now see played out, and it has created a great deal of misery for the more than 3,000 others stuck in many facilities in Indonesia."
"The Sri Lankans are not 'demanding and difficult people' as some have suggested. They are UNHCR refugees who want resettlement in a country where they are safe - a country that has signed the United Nations Refugee Convention. This is not extraordinary or demanding, this is the promise made to them under the Convention," Mr Smit concluded.
Jack H Smit
Project SafeCom Inc.
[phone number posted]
Tamils send a message to Rudd
Sydney Morning Herald
Tom Allard in Tanjung Pinang
November 1, 2009
Most of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers in a stand-off with Australian authorities off the coast of the Riau Islands have been living in Indonesia for years, providing the Rudd Government with leverage to convince Indonesia to take them back.
Australian officials see the development as a possible circuit-breaker to the two-week impasse that has caused the Government much political and diplomatic anguish.
In written messages thrown off the Oceanic Viking, the Australian Customs ship housing 78 ethnic Tamils for the past two weeks, asylum seekers said they had been living in Indonesia for up to five years and had been accepted by the United Nations office in Jakarta as genuine refugees. They said they hired a people smuggler out of their frustration that no country would accept them.
"For four to five years we waited until we are tired before departing illegally by boat," read the message thrown to The Sun-Herald, written in Indonesian. It insisted the Sri Lankans had arrived in Indonesia "normally" some years back.
Part of the Indonesian justification for not taking the Sri Lankans is that they are refusing to be registered by immigration officials. But it appears, they have already been registered because the UN High Commissioner for Refugees does not process asylum-seekers unless they have been registered by Indonesia first.
After the Australian Navy picked up the Tamils in Indonesia's search and rescue zone two weeks ago, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd believed he had an agreement with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono for Indonesia to take them. But the deal has unravelled in the past week.
The asylum seekers said Australian officials had told them they would "like to have us leave the boat this week". But they are refusing to budge and have pleaded for international sympathy.
Indonesia says it will not remove the Sri Lankans by force and has given Australia until Friday to convince them to voluntarily set foot in Indonesia.
Yesterday senior Australian embassy officials boarded the Oceanic Viking and some of its crew were replaced.
The Federal Government also confirmed the capacity of the Christmas Island detention centre will be increased to more than 2000. Immigration Minister Chris Evans said "the Government is very much committed to ensuring there's mandatory detention of unauthorised boat arrivals."