Free the Tamil refugees-Protest held in London

We will not remain silent while Tamil refugees suffer out of the sight of the world’s media. That was the message to the Australian High Commission in London on Wednesday 10 March. That date marked the 150th day that 254 Tamils have spent on board a boat in Merak harbour, Indonesia. That is five months in cramped conditions, with access to only one toilet, lacking adequate supplies of drinking water, food and medical facilities. One woman is due to give birth soon. Outbreaks of skin diseases have infected the children.

The protest was called by Tamil Solidarity, and was supported by other Tamil groups, including the British Tamils Forum. It was part of a worldwide day of action which included Tamil rights campaigns, trade union, socialist and human rights groups from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Australia and New Zealand. Coordinated protests took place in all these countries, as well as in Hong Kong, several European states and North America.

These refugees were attempting to sail to Australia having fled the aftermath of the Sri Lankan army’s offensive in the first half of 2009. In those final months of the war between the Sri Lankan regime and Tamil Tiger fighters, over 20,000 Tamil-speaking people were massacred. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands were rounded up and held in open prison camps under armed guard.

Today, thousands are still held in so-called ‘secret’ camps, while the Tamil-speaking people who have been released are left to return to shattered villages and wrecked homes. Schools and hospitals, small businesses, fishing boats and land have been destroyed.

It was from that situation that these refugees fled, to try to salvage some kind of future for their children. But the Australian and Indonesian governments did a deal and the boat was intercepted by the Indonesian navy and taken to Merak. Ever since, the people on board have been in limbo, with no rights and no status. Provisions are delivered sporadically and inadequately by the navy. The only access to supplementary aid, legal advice and solidarity has been through the courageous efforts of trade union-based and humanitarian campaigns in Indonesia, supported by groups in Australia and Malaysia. Tamil Solidarity has been an integral part of this campaigning work and has highlighted this case internationally.

We hand delivered a letter to the High Commission which urged immediate action to alleviate the suffering of the refugees, and calling on the Australian government to grant them asylum. We will continue to do all we can to highlight this gross injustice – and to fight for the rights of Tamil-speaking people, and for all workers and oppressed people in Sri Lanka.

Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary

Following letter was handed in along with joint statement signed by many organisations around the world


To: the Australian High Commission

The Strand



 10 March 2010

 Dear High Commissioner

Protest in support of Tamil boat people

We are protesting today outside the Australian High Commission in London to highlight the plight of Tamil refugees on board a ship moored in the Indonesian harbour of Merak. The refugees have now been stranded on this boat for 150 days.

The 254 Tamils fled from Sri Lanka in the aftermath of a brutal civil war. Hundreds of thousands of their fellow Tamil-speaking people were held against their will in open prison camps, and secret camps are still in operation. Outside of the camps, the infrastructure of the Tamil areas has been devastated by the war, with houses and businesses destroyed.

The Australian government has refused permission to the ship to land in Australia. Instead, it handed responsibility over to the Indonesian administration. So, the refugees are in limbo, with nowhere to go and no rights or status.

This letter from Tamil Solidarity records our deep concern for the welfare and rights of these and other Tamil-speaking refugees, and urges the Australian government to reconsider its position and grant them asylum.

Tamil Solidarity is part of an international campaign organising protests at Australian embassies around the world today to mark the 150th day of this horrific ordeal. We will continue to draw attention to the plight of Tamil-speaking people, as well as to the role played by the Australian and other governments.

We urge you to take immediate action on this issue. Notification of any action you are or will be taking, and any comments you may have regarding this situation, should be forwarded to Tamil Solidarity at the earliest possible time. Please email:

Yours faithfully,

 Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary