Refugees nearing 150 days at sea

Tamil Refugees on the boat demanding asylum

254 Sri Lankan Tamil-speaking refugees have been trapped on a tiny boat in the port of Merak in Indonesia. It will be 150 days on march 10th.

Currently No humanitarian agencies apart from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) are allowed to visit the boat. The IOM, which gets $12 million a year from the Australian government (as part of Australia’s ‘Indonesian Solution’) to provide humanitarian assistance to asylum seekers warehoused in Indonesia, is refusing to visit this boat. No independent monitors, including the Indonesian Human Rights Commissioner himself, have been given access to the boat. (He visited the boat twice, in October and November 2009, and has applied for access to the boat again, but has still not received authorisation from the Indonesian Department of Foreign Affairs.) The media is not allowed access.

People on the boat: There are 35 children on the boat including a baby, born in the conflict area during the last stages of war in Sri Lanka, who just had its first birthday on the boat. Children cannot get sleep as they suffer from an extremely irritable rash and other skin conditions. There are 27 women on the boat including one woman who is eight months pregnant. Over 100 people on the boat already have UNHCR cards issued in Malaysia. Regardless the Australian and Indonesian governments refuse to accept them as refugees.

Conditions on the boat: The boat is designed to hold 40 people and there is only one toilet. The food supplied is unhygienic and lacks nutritional value. Fuel for the boat is not supplied. The refugees buy a little fuel from the locals. Each person can only have a shower every two days, since the water has to be pumped onto the boat by motor. The lack of medical facility has already resulted in one death Many are suffering from illness on this boat. Already 29 year-old George Jacob Samuel Christin died due to severe food poisoning and lack of proper medical facility. The authorities constantly refuse to take suffering patients to the hospital.

Those who volunteered to get off the boat: They are like the canary in the mine. Here is what happened to them: One man was returned to Sri Lanka with assistance from the IOM. As soon as he landed in Sri Lanka he disappeared and was found in a detention camp in Boosa Galle. Australian Refugee rights activists visiting Indonesia in December 2009 brought this to the attention of the Indonesian Foreign Ministry and the Indonesian Human Rights commission. The latest they heard from his family is that he has finally been released but the family is afraid to reveal details of this. The others have been held inside a detention cell in Jakarta for more than two months (24 hours, seven days a week). The cell holds 12 men and is about 15 meter square. People are allowed to smoke in the cell. The food that is provided is not varied according to the health needs of the detainees. Captain Kapil and two other Sri Lankan navy officials from the Sri Lankan Embassy in Jakarta visited this cell and interrogated these men.

Primary concerns and fears of those on the boat: They are fearful if that if they disembark they will be placed in detention and also be interrogated by Sri Lankan government officials. Indonesian officials have threatened to forcibly remove them from the boat and deport them back to Sri Lanka. There is no protection from harassment from local police and immigration officials. There have been a number of assaults on asylum seekers by the police. Immigration officials have confiscated badly needed medicines, food supplements for the pregnant woman and other supplies provided by humanitarian workers. Source:

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