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Government Urged Not to Repatriate Refugees

Sumber: THEJAKARTAGLOBE.COM | Tgl terbit: Senin, 18 Mei 2009

Nurdin Hasan

Banda Aceh. Activists have urged the government not to repatriate 55 Sri Lankan refugees stranded in Aceh after their boat sank last Thursday during an attempted voyage to seek political asylum in Australia.

Hendra Fadli, coordinator for Aceh’s Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), argued in a written statement received by the Jakarta Globe in Banda Aceh over the weekend that the Sri Lankans were persecuted Tamils escaping the conflict in their homeland.

“The government must consider the non-refoulement principle, which states that no refugee is allowed to be sent home if there is a potential threat to the refugee’s life or freedom,” he said.

Hendra said the Sri Lankans, who are currently being housed in a warehouse in Alue Bilie village in Nagan Raya district, would face further danger if returned to their war-torn country.

Initial information, he said, confirmed the refugees were members of the rebel army and civilians fleeing the fighting.

To handle the refugees, Hendra suggested the government involve the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

“Although Indonesia is not the [intended] destination of political refugees from Asian countries that suffer from conflict, Indonesia’s strategic location in the middle of the world’s trafficking routes apparently made Indonesia the destination for the political refugees, whether deliberate or not,” he said.

This is not the first case of refugees arriving in Aceh. In early January, some 193 ethnic Rohingyas from Burma landed in Sabang. A month later, 198 more Rohingyas were rescued from the Malacca Strait near Idi Rayeuk in east Aceh.

“To address the matter, Indonesia, as a country included in the international human rights convention regulating protection of refugees, must take measured action by continuing to support humanitarian interests,” Hendra said.

Quoting Article 3 of the Convention Against Torture, Hendra said, “No member country shall drive away, return or extradite a person to another country if there is strong reason to believe that the person is at risk of being tortured.”

Several of the Sri Lankans reportedly told local villagers that they did not want to return to their country and wanted to seek asylum in Australia.

Kontras Aceh urged the government to actively advocate for peace in countries such as Sri Lanka and Burma.

“Cross-border refugees in Indonesia must be seen as a sign to all Indonesians to assist the realization of peace in neighboring countries which are still under violent conflict,” Hendra said.
Indonesia’s support of peace in the region, he said, was the long-term solution to stopping political refugees from landing here. He pointed to Indonesia’s successful handling of the armed conflict in Aceh as an example of the country’s credentials in brokering peace.

“Moreover, by showing our support for world peace, Indonesia’s reputation in the international community will be strengthened, from our past bad reputation as a human rights violator to a pioneer in democracy and regional peace in Asia.”

Meanwhile, one of the Sri Lankan refugees, identified as Suthakaran, 27, was rushed to the hospital in a weakened condition on Saturday evening.

The head of the Alue Bilie medical center, Dr. Agus Surya Putra, said that tests showed the Sri Lankan was suffering from hepatitis B.

“He has already been sent to the Meulaboh general hospital in the West Aceh capital for better treatment,” the doctor said.

Agus said that health checks were being regularly performed on the Sri Lankan refugees. So far, he said, the other refugees are in good condition.



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