Jakarta loses patience with Tamil refugees
Indonesian authorities plan to move a group of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers who have refused to leave their boat for the past six months into an Australian-funded detention centre today. The Tamils’ boat was headed for Australia last October when Kevin Rudd called Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and asked that the vessel be halted in Indonesian waters. But the Tamils — then numbering 254, including 31 children — subsequently refused to disembark at the west Java port of Merak, fearing they would be forced to wait in Indonesia for years before being resettled.
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Six months later, Indonesian patience has finally run out.
Senior Foreign Ministry official Sujatmiko yesterday said authorities would move the Tamils — who now number fewer than 200 — from the boat today.
“Monday, at noon,” Sujatmiko said.
Sujatmiko declined to say where the Tamils were to be taken. But an immigration official, who did not want to be named, confirmed the asylum-seekers would be taken to the Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre, on the island of Bintan.
The Tamils this month tentatively agreed to come ashore but remain adamant they did not want to enter a detention centre. “We will not go to Tanjung Pinang,” a spokesman for the group, who calls himself Nimal, said yesterday.
“We don’t want to be in detention, we want freedom.”
It is not known if Indonesia has decided to use force to remove the Tamils from the boat if they resist.
The Tamils have been warned they could face deportation if they do not leave the boat voluntarily.
The Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre is the same place the 78 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers involved in last year’s Oceanic Viking standoff were taken before being resettled under a special Rudd government deal.