Grant Asylum to Tamil refugees in Merak – 18th January Protest‏

Protest at the Australian Embassy

Date: 18 January 2010

Time: 4pm

Place: The Australian High Commission, Strand, London WC2B 4LA

(corner of the Aldwych and the Strand. Nearest Tube station: Temple)

International human rights organisations and governments, who boast about their concern for human rights, have ignored the plight of over 250 Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking refugees held in a small boat near Merak, Indonesia. The refugees are fleeing the horrible aftermath of the brutal war in Sri Lanka. The Sri Lankan government, rated as one of the worst in the world for respecting international human rights, now faces a UN war crimes investigation. But the Australian government and other governments, who remained silent during the war, now turn a blind eye to the horrific suffering of these refugees.

It is now over 100 days that these refugees, including children, have been held in the tiny boat with no facilities. It would be unacceptable to keep animals in such crowded and harsh conditions for this long. Having gone through so much suffering due to war, all these refugees are in dire need of better care. It is beyond belief that the Australian government thinks it is acceptable to ignore such cruelty right on its border. In fact the Australian government is responsible for their detention in Merak. The refugees’ boat was stopped by the Indonesian navy on direct instruction from the Australian Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd.

The negligence of these governments has already cost the life of a 29 year-old man, Mr Jacob Christian. The conditions on the boat put his health at serious risk but he died when the authorities delayed taking him to hospital. Now the health of all the refugees is deteriorating on a daily basis. They are forced to eat disgusting and inadequate food. There are no proper facilities for cleaning and washing. Access to water is also restricted. There is only one toilet. They are suffering from all sorts of stomach-related diseases. Skin conditions stop the children sleeping and rashes and disease spread quickly. 

Incredibly the Australian and Indonesian governments want to give the impression that these refugees do not want to leave the boat where they suffer so badly. On the contrary, the refugees can’t wait to get off the boat but they are given no other acceptable choice. The only option on offer is to suffer similar, sometimes even worse, conditions in Indonesian detention centres for many years. The Indonesian government in not bound by the international refugee convention. Recently the Sri Lankan authorities, the very people most feared by the refugees, were allowed to interrogate Sri Lankan detainees. This is a fate that these refugees refuse to accept. For them it is almost the same as jumping into the Merak sea.

The refugees have continually repeated that all they want to do is to get off the boat, as long as the Australian government, or any other country that is signed up to the UN refugee convention or the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), commits to processing their refugee claims fairly. They would leave the boat today if the Australian government said that it would allow UNHCR to process their claims.

UNHCR, which is supposed to protect the rights of the refugees, has also refused to talk to them. The Working People’s Association in Indonesia (PRP), acting for the refugees, visited the UNHCR office in Jakarta where they were intimidated and told point blank that UNHCR would do nothing until the refugees get off the boat. That is to say that they would only do what the Indonesian government asked them to do, as the refugees would be in its custody if they disembark.

The Australian government is evading its international responsibility by using Indonesia through this scheme, known as the ‘Indonesian solution’. UNHCR, instead of opposing this scheme, seems to be facilitating it. UNHCR doesn’t need any government’s permission to speak to the refugees, among whom quite a large number have UNHCR cards showing that they have been recognised as refugees. The hypocrisy of UNHCR, who continues to ignore these refugees, must be exposed.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM), an agency that collects money from ordinary people around the world and receives tax payers’ money as funding from governments such as the UK, is also refusing to provide the proper facilities for these refugees. They complied with the Indonesian government on all issues and closed down their office in Merak.

 Activists around the world are campaigning for the Merak refugees. However, so far the calls for immediate action have fallen on deaf ears. The Australian government is starving the refugees out by dragging the process on. They know that the more they drag this matter on, the more tired and desperate these refugees will become. They want these refugees to be sent to Indonesian detention centres or back to Sri Lanka where they will face more misery.

It wouldn’t take long for the Australian government to process these refugees and treat them humanely. The idea that just over 250 people could be a drain on Australian resources is unacceptable. The Rudd government is pandering to the right wing. For Indonesia, the Merak refugees provide a chance to negotiate a better deal from Australia for its Indonesian solution. These refugees are trapped in the middle of these right-wing political games and continue to suffer.

But we cannot give up the fight. Not a single person on the boat should be returned back to Sri Lanka where they face imprisonment, torture and death. They should be allowed to lead a decent life. But the refugees are tired, sick and frustrated. We must act fast and intensify our fight to save them. We must find a quick and favourable solution to their problem.

  • This misery and unbearable human suffering must be ended immediately
  • The Australian government must immediately provide food, clothes and proper medical care to those on the boat
  • UNHCR must immediately take responsibility for processing the refugees’ claims
  • We urge all Australian trade unions and other activists to support them
  • We call for international protests at Australian embassies around the world
  • All those who care about human rights must come forward to add their voice to protest for these refugees
  • Tamil-speaking people around the world must raise their protest voice in support of these refugees
  • Scrap the Indonesian solution