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Asylum Seekers Go on Hunger Strike in Aceh Prison

Sumber: THEJAKARTAGLOBAL.COM | Tgl terbit: Kamis, 21 Mei 2009

Nurdin Hasan

Banda Aceh. Fifty-five Sri Lankans who had been held at a warehouse since they drifted ashore in Aceh last week went on a hunger strike after being been moved to a prison, an immigration official said on Thursday.

“They demand to be allowed to meet with the UNHCR,” said Suryo Santoso, the head of the immigration office in Meulaboh, West Aceh, adding that a team from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which arrived on Thursday to assess the Sri Lankans’ case, had to first check on them.

He said the Sri Lankans, who had previously said they wanted to seek political asylum in Australia, went on a hunger strike on Wednesday, after they were moved to Meulaboh Prison from a warehouse in Alue Bilie village in Nagan Raya district.

“At the warehouse, they had been housed near fertilizers, which is not decent for them and, as well, there was no toilet,” Suryo said in explaining why the Sri Lankans were moved. He said they were not prisoners and not being kept under detention, as their cell doors remained open.

However, Sajanthan, 22, one of the asylum seekers, said the conditions at the prison were worse.

“We liked it better in the first shelter,” he told journalists on Thursday. “Besides, we don’t want be in prison because we are not criminals.”

Suryo said that as well as providing the asylum seekers with better facilities, the move had also brought them closer to immigration officers based in Meulaboh, which would make it easier to process their cases.

“A third reason was to isolate them from local residents,” he said, adding that it would also be easier to guarantee the security of the Sri Lankans in the prison.

The move to the prison is only a temporary measure, however, as the Sri Lankans will have to be moved to an immigration quarantine facility for assessment by teams from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Because the Meulaboh Immigration Office does not have quarantine facilities, the prison was considered the best place to house the Sri Lankans while awaiting the arrival of officials to determine their status.

Suryo said the asylum seekers had been placed in a prison block of 30 cells and had been isolated from other prisoners at the facility.

“They are not under arrest,” he said. “The cells are absolutely open, so they can easily go out from their cells. However, they are not allowed to leave the prison.

“Their placement in the prison is strictly because of the need for a decent and proper place to house them.”

Meanwhile, he said, the Meulaboh Immigration Office and the International Organization for Migration will continue to look after the daily needs of the Sri Lankans.

Suryo said none of the asylum seekers were carrying legal documents and, from the early information gathered from the group, they were attempting to get to Australia.

Their Malaysian-flagged vessel was severely damaged by rough conditions in the Indian Ocean last week.

Aceh’s Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said last weekend it believed the Sri Lankans were persecuted Tamils trying to escape the civil conflict in their homeland.

 



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