Given all the speculation and commentary about the two boats with Tamil asylum seekers aboard currently in Indonesia, I thought it would be helpful to publish some basic facts about the people. This information comes from Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne, a person I’ve found to very reliable on these sorts of things – certainly far more so than anonymous, speculative or presumptive comments in the media.
“Merak” is anchored off the Indonesian port of Merak and has 255 people on board including “Alex”. These people came recently from Sri Lanka- we are trying to get exact numbers but we believe that over 90% have come out of the camps including Menik Farm.
They are deeply traumatised and fear being returned to camps if they hand them selves over to the Indonesian government. Three people from this boat have been hospitalised and 5 people with little children have left the boat because of the children. Last week water was restricted and no medical care given for conjunctivitis which was sweeping through the boat. Over 30 cases reported on Friday.
The good news is that on Saturday Doctors arrived and provided treatment and the water restrictions were lifted. IOM and Indonesian officers are pressuring the people to disembark. However after living in camps in SL these people are not ready to commit to camps in Indonesia.
This boat has dropped out of the media gaze- please watch carefully as they need us to ensure that their rights are respected. –
* the people on the boat are calling it the “Merak”
“Ocean Viking” has 78 people on board. 37 of these people hold UNHCR refugee cards and most have been in Indonesia for years waiting for a place to call home.
They are recognised as refugees but this is no guarantee of resettlement. Refugees have been warehoused in Indonesia since 2001 by first the Howard and then the Rudd Government. Eventually people realise that they must help themselves as no one else will help them. This is why the boats will continue to come from Indonesia where there are currently 2,107 people registered with UNHCR who are going nowhere. There are 50 people in Christmas island detention centres who hold UNHCR refugee cards.
Australian resettlement from Indonesia
2008-2009 35 people
2007-2008 89 people
2006-2007 32 people
Total resettlement 2001 – 2009 was 460 people an average of 50 per year. You do not need to be a mathematical genius to work out the odds of resettlement.
Life is Indonesia for these people means no work, no school even for primary school children and no future. People are fed and watered and sheltered by IOM at Australia’s expense. However people are not cattle and need more in life than this which is why they take matters into their own hands – wouldn’t we?
ADDENDUM: Some very useful information contained in this article by Matt Wade in the Sydney Morning Herald. It gives some good background to a question frequently being asked in Australia at the moment, which is why don’t Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka just go to the Tamil Nadu region in India.
Some in Australia have asked why Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka don’t just go the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu, home to 60 million Tamil speakers. The answer is that more than 100,000 have done just that. About 73,000 of them live in special refugee camps funded and run by the Indian Government. Another 31,000 live in the community, mostly in cities such as Chennai.
India – where 800 million people live on less than $2 a day – does not encourage the flow of refugees from its small island neighbour. Even so they have been arriving in waves since the Tamil Tigers took up arms to fight for a separate homeland in north and east of Sri Lanka in the early 1980s. The war ended in May but refugees continue to arrive……
The public reaction [in India] is in stark contrast to the recent frenzy over boat people in Australia. The media have taken little notice of the boat arrivals and national politicians have been allowed to concentrate on other challenges……
There is sympathy for the refugees. In September the ruling party in Tamil Nadu passed a resolution calling on the national government to grant citizenship to all Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in India. So far, New Delhi has shown no interest in the idea.
Not only Tamils seek sanctuary in India. The World Refugee Survey 2009, published by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, found 456,000 refugees and asylum seekers in India. That includes about 110,000 Tibetans including the spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. India also tolerates a huge number of Bangladeshis within its borders – many millions, by some estimates – although they are officially deemed illegal immigrants.