Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Protest report: Respect the rights of Tamil refugees

By Priyaksha Pathmanathan On Monday 18th January, 30 Aucklanders representing half-a-dozen organisations protested outside the Australian consulate as part of a seven-country international campaign. They were demanding that the Australian Government take responsibility for 254 Tamil asylum seekers sailing for Australia who were turned back to Indonesia after the Australian prime minister asked the Indonesian Navy to intercept their boat. Similar protests took place in Indonesia, Australia, Canada, United States, England and Malaysia on the same day. Organisations supporting the Auckland protest included the Indonesian Human Rights Committee, Socialist Worker-New Zealand, Human Rights Network and the Workers Party. Local protest organizer Priyaksha Pathmanathan said “This was an important first step in making this issue visible in New Zealand and I hope that more could be done by countries to address the root causes of the many conflicts that are causing people to get into dangerous situations in their desperate need to seek freedom” As part of the Australian Government's ‘Indonesian Solution’, Kevin Rudd personally requested that the Indonesian Navy intercept and stop a boat carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers from entering Australian waters. Monday marked 100 days since the Tamil asylum seekers refused to leave the boat for fear of being locked up in an Indonesian detention centre or being deported back to Sri Lanka. This fear was confirmed when Gunasekaram Sujendran voluntarily stepped off the boat to visit his sick mother in Sri Lanka and was imprisoned without charge upon arrival in Colombo Airport. A repeat of the event occurred when eight asylum seekers left the boat on a promise by Indonesian officials to have UNHCR access; However these eight men were thrown in Indonesian detention cells where they were interrogated by the Sri Lankan Navy and officials. Health and Hygiene on this boat is poor, with more than 200 people sharing one toilet. Many on this boat are sick from diarrehea and other preventable diseases. There are 31 Children on board, including a little baby who was born in the bunker in the last stages of the war in Sri Lanka in 2009 and who has just turned 1 on the boat. There are 27 Women without basic needs, one of which a woman who is 7 months pregnant on this boat. Without access given to UNHCR to process applications, media or family members, the protest comes amid the escalating human rights abuses that are occurring on the boat. One which caused uproar was the preventable death of George Jacob Samuel Christin who died due medical negligence by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) and the Indonesian Navy. The Auckland protesters stood outside the Australian Consulate at Viaduct Harbour Basin with placards, urging the Australian Government to respect the rights of refugees as a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention. They also requested the New Zealand Government to uphold its duty as a signatory to the Refugee Convention. Protesters chanted “In the jail or on the sea – Respect the rights of the refugee” Addressing the crowd, Maire Leadbeater from Indonesian Human Rights Committee “There can be no doubt that Tamil citizens of Sri Lanka have reason to fear persecution as most have had their lives disrupted by extreme violence and internal displacement. International law enshrines the principle of ‘non-refoulement’, explicitly prohibiting the forced return of refugees to areas where their lives are potentially in danger” she concluded by saying “I am happy to be part of this important contribution to what’s being an international human rights issue to what’s becoming one of a desperate humanitarian crisis. New Zealand should also be aware that it has a region responsibility to assist with the plight of genuine asylum seekers” “We are public witnesses for Tamil asylum seekers fleeing civil strife who are trapped on a boat in Indonesia and cannot speak for themselves," said Grant Morgan from Socialist Worker. “It is legal to seek asylum in any country, but this international law is being violated by the governments of Australia and Indonesia, with covert backing from the New Zealand government. The actions of these governments is not only immoral but also illegal.” Green MP Keith Locke, who was out of the Auckland and could not make it to the protest, sent this message: “I congratulate those present on this vigil today for highlighting the tragic plight of the Tamil asylum seekers on the boat off Merak. They are suffering terribly. On behalf of the Green Party I have been pushing for New Zealand to take some of these asylum seekers, along with Australia. This is the only just response New Zealand can make to the crisis caused by the persecution of Tamil people in Sri Lanka, which has led to so many people fleeing on boats. I will continue to push our government on this matter.” See also: Protest illegal actions against Tamil asylum seekers And, background information at the end of this post

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