‘These people have endured a long and difficult journey already’ - Josef Benedict
The Indonesian central government should allow dozens of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers - including a pregnant woman and nine children - who have reached the coast of Lhoknga in Aceh, to disembark and meet UN Refugee Agency officials, said Amnesty International.
Amnesty fears that the Indonesian authorities may attempt to push the boat - reportedly carrying 44 people - back into international waters.
Aceh fishermen discovered the boat off the coast on 11 June and subsequently reported it to the Indonesian navy. The navy have prevented the boat from disembarking and its occupants applying for asylum, arguing that they lack proper documentation. Meanwhile, the Tamils remain on the boat, with the threat of being forced back into international waters hanging over them. The authorities are still preventing UNHCR officials from interviewing them to establish the veracity of their claims and identity.
The group had set out from India, more than 1,000 miles away, on a boat bearing an Indian flag. They’d been travelling for 20 days, headed for Australia, when, near the coast of Aceh, bad weather left the vessel stranded off Lhoknga.
Those on board have reportedly fled Sri Lanka, where the members of the Tamil minority have suffered persecution. Despite recent improvements, there are still concerns about discriminatory practices against Tamils by law-enforcement officials. The UN Human Rights Council noted in April that Sri Lanka had seen a spate of arrests of Tamils under the country’s Prevention of Terrorism Act. Tamil Sri Lankans remain deeply concerned about what they say is a persistent culture of surveillance in the north and east of the country.
Josef Benedict, Amnesty International Campaigns Director for South-East Asia and the Pacific, said:
“These people have endured a long and difficult journey already. Now that they have reached land in Aceh, they should be allowed to disembark and meet UNHCR officials.
“Refugees and asylum-seekers frequently travel without identity documents, as often these documents are either difficult to obtain or get lost during the journey. This has no consequence on these people’s right to seek asylum. UNHCR should be allowed to register them immediately.
“We are calling on the Indonesian authorities to adopt a consistent approach in these cases. Last year Indonesia won much acclaim for providing refugees and migrants with much-needed assistance during the Andaman Sea boat crisis. It will be a grave injustice if people seeking international protection had their right to seek asylum ignored in Indonesia.”
Indonesia’s constitution recognises the right to claim asylum and since 2011 the Indonesian authorities have been developing a Presidential Regulation on asylum-seekers and refugees. According to Indonesian NGOs, the proposed regulation contains many positive measures, but has not yet been passed.