Thursday 1 January 2009

Fact Sheet: Tamil’s Asylum Seekers in Indonesia

from Working People’s Association, Malaysia

Some 255 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka since 11 October 2009 still live in a wooden boat leaning on Harbor Indah Kiat, Merak, Banten. Merak in Banten Province is a small city 120 km or about 3 hours drive from Jakarta. The wooden boat they use is about 100 feet2 (30.48m2). On the ship they share a place among 195 men, 29 women, one of them is 5 month pregnant, and 31 children. They are Tamil who came from some areas in Sri Lanka such as Jaffna, Batticaloa, Mullaittivu and Colombo. They left their home country, Sri Lanka, a result from prolonged conflict between the government and LTTE armed groups. There are six main reasons why they left Sri Lanka: Racial Discrimination, oppression by LTTE to join them, genocide, persecution, kidnapping and murder. Now in Sri Lanka over 250,000 people are suffering in so-called refugee camps, which are in fact torture camps. In all parts of Sri Lanka Tamil-speaking people have been arrested and killed.

The Travel of Asylum Seeker

In Malaysia

The Asylum Seeker leaved Sri Lanka not at the same time then meets in Malaysia. In Malaysia they stay at detention center. Some of them managed administer their refugee documents in the UNHCR Malaysia office. The total number of person who has Refugees Document from UNHCR is 109 people. Another 24 have UNHCR letters stating they are in the final stages of refugee determination. However, because Malaysia has not signed the 1951 Refugee Convention, they cannot get their rights as refugees. Among those rights are the right to work and the right to a decent livelihood. Another problem in Malaysia is: the health service came late despite being sick. It is hard and sometime they do not get medical services from the hospital, despite brought the documents required and also the lack of education for their children. They stated also that the Sri Lanka Government belief that Tamil people residing in Malaysia is involved with the LTTE. Because of that condition, they decided to flee from Malaysia on October 1, 2009 to continue the journey to Australia in the hope for a better life.

In Indonesia

By using wooden boat they began to depart from Malaysia to Australia. On October 10, 2009, they were intercept by the Indonesian Navy, and force them to dock at the port of Indah Kiat, Merak, Banten, Indonesia. Since then, they were in detention Indonesian Navy. Next the authority was switch to the Banten Immigration Office and also the Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the help from IOM (International Organization on Migration).

They refused to leave the ship and to be moved to a building near the port which is provided by the immigration authorities because of fears of arrest, deported back to Sri Lanka. They worry that there is no guarantee of fulfillment and protection of human rights, including rights to health and education for their children. Indonesia hasn’t signed the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugee.

The desire of the Asylum Seeker

They refuse to be send to their home country Sri Lanka. Fears of persecution by the Government of Sri Lanka became the main reason for the rejection. They also didn’t want to meet with representative from Sri Lanka Embassy. For fearing of their identity might be known by the Sri Lanka government and it will affect their relatives in Sri Lanka.

They also requested that the Government of Indonesia does not hold them, and to release or let them continue their journey.

They want the UNHCR to visit them as soon as possible to discuss the fate and the protection of their rights as asylum seekers/ refugees.

They wanted to be in a contry that can give assurance of their life existence as Tamils ethnic. They wanted a better life especially for the economy, education, health, and other fundamental rights for their children in countries that have the ability to fulfill it. Like Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc.

Indonesian Government Policies

The existence of diplomatic agreements related to immigration flows between the Government of Indonesia and Australia’s "Indonesian solution", pointed out as a major factor for the detention of this asylum seekers from Sri Lanka. Related to these asylum seekers, Australian Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has requested the help of the Government of Indonesia to continue holding asylum seekers in Indonesia. For these purposes, the Australian Government would provide the budget.

On the other hand, Indonesia does not have a framework for dealing with asylum seekers or refugees. Indonesia also hasn’t sign the UN Convention on Refugee Status. This resulted in lack of clarity about the fate of asylum seekers and refugees. Fundamental rights, of those are guaranteed by the civil rights and political covenant, as well as covenants of economic rights, social, and cultural became ignored. The asylum seekers cannot obtain a decent living in this country. More severe, asylum seekers are often classified as illegal immigrants in the context of Indonesian law that can be detained and treated as criminal immigration, which then leads to the arrest and deportation. Such policy is clearly a threat to asylum seekers, as well as refugees.

What We Do?

We consolidate several organization to build a coalition, those organization are: Confederation Congress of Indonesia Union Alliance, Jakarta Legal Aid Institute, Legal Aid Institute Foundation and Human Rights Working Group. And we named our coalition: Civil Society Solidarity for Asylum Seeker and Refuges. We have visited the refugees three times. The last one is with Indonesia Human Rights Commission. We have also had a meeting with UNHCR.

In the meeting with UNHCR, they said that Indonesia UNHCR is maintaining a silent publicity. This is due to Indonesia hasn’t sign the UN Convention. UNHCR also stated that they have been asking for an access from the Foreign Ministry. But their request was rejected.

In a meeting between the Asylum Seeker, Working Peoples Association, Indonesia Human Rights Commission and our coalition, the Human Rights Commission promises several things: they will contact the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights to provide better basic needs and they will contact the Foreign Ministry to pressure them in finding a solution for the Asylum Seeker.

On Sunday, 15 November 2009, Working Peoples Association with Confederation KASBI visited Merak again for the purpose to giving several goods that they need but not provided by the IOM. Among other things are; mirror, comb, SIM card, mobile phone, laptop and some Indonesian currency to be exchange with the foreign currency they have. The other is to ask what other things they need but not being given by IOM. From our campaign some of Working Peoples Association members and other peoples have given donation. But we are forbidden to enter the area. On Tuesday, 17 November 2009, PRP and Coalition held press conference urging the Indonesian government to give access to Indonesian people’s solidarity, UNHCR and other humanitarian aid.

The condition of the Asylum Seeker

They perform daily activities in the wooden boat ranging from bathing, washing, cleaning, cooking, eating, drinking, playing, etc. They have to take turns to sleep on the narrow deck. International Organization on Migration (IOM), Indonesia became the supplier of their basic needs while they dock in Merak, Banten. Under the coordination of the Merak Immigration, IOM distributed staples such as water, food, and some other needs.

On 26–30 October 2009, the distribution of their basic needs was stopped. This is done to force them to move from the ship and live in buildings that have been provided. However, the Asylum Seeker stays and refused to move. The Merak immigration authorities denied that they stop the supply of basic needs for the asylum seekers. Although they acknowledge the facts about the supply of basic needs was stopped and implicitly that the termination came from initiative of the Government. They stated that it would be better that asylum seekers living in the building provided by the immigration authorities.

IOM and the Indonesian government give them 3.000 liter water a day, one t shirt and one shorts for male and a set of cloth for women. Pillow only for women and children and one mat for two people. The refugees complaining that the food had worm, needle and small stone in it and all the 31 children is losing weight.

After Working Peoples Association last visit with the Civil Society Solidarity for Asylum Seeker and Refugees and Indonesian Human Rights Commission, the refugees was called by Indonesian Navy guarding them. A Colonel, named Irawan, socialized government decision to state the area as a restricted area and not to allow UNHCR and media to go to the area. Later when we came we know that Indonesian people’s solidarity was also forbidden to enter the area.

Heavy rain since couple of days has complicated the asylum seekers condition, especially women and children. The boat only use tarpaulin roof that torn in several spot and doesn’t cover all the room. Children are infected with pneumonia, fever and diarrhoea. On Saturday, 14 November 2009, there was an incident: The conditions of the refugees are deteriorating because of the weather and the Indonesia government attitude in stalling the time in giving proper solution for the Refugees. Deteriorating condition causes one woman fainted and unconscious. Panic and tension then happen when International Organization of Migration (IOM) is disincline to come to the boat and treat the woman. After some time finally the woman was taken to Krakatau Steel Hospital. Now International Organization on Migration, who previously distributing daily needs given by the Indonesia government, moved outside Indah Kiat Harbor area. The generator that supplies electricity for the refugees is also taken by IOM. Often the asylum seekers are starve because of the food that deliver by Indonesia Navy was late (after IOM pull back). They also have to use their own money to pay for ambulances to transport sick and unconscious people to hospital.

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