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Indonesia Says It Won't Bend on Sri Lanka Refugees

Sumber: thejakartaglobe.com | Tgl terbit: Sabtu, 31 Oktober 2009

Markus Junianto Sihaloho& Ismira Lutfia

The government said on Friday that it would not be forced into taking in a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers stranded here en route to Australia.

The statement came as the government extended the clearance for an Australian customs vessel moored in the Riau Islands by an additional week to provide more time to resolve the deadlock over 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers it had on board.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah rejected the concept of an “Indonesian solution,” as floated by the Australian media, in which Indonesia would be asked to take in the Sri Lankan migrants on behalf of Australia.

“If there is an Indonesian solution, why isn’t there an Australian solution?” he asked, adding that Indonesia had never entertained the idea of becoming a processing center for asylum seekers to other countries.

“We are not comfortable with that concept.”

However, Faizasyah said that Indonesia remained committed to providing humanitarian assistance to the asylum seekers, although it could not force them to disembark from the vessel. “We will not break our promise [of humanitarian assistance],” he said.

The 78 Sri Lankans — reportedly 68 men, five women and five children — aboard the Australian government’s armed patrol ship, the MV Oceanic Viking, which has been in Riau for almost two weeks, have refused to be transferred to an Australian-funded detention center on Bintan Island.

This month, Indonesian authorities intercepted another boat carrying 255 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in the Sunda Strait bound for Australia. That boat is now anchored in Banten and the migrants have also refused to disembark.

Faizasyah said the government was prepared to cooperate with Australia over the latest issue and extend the permit for the Oceanic Viking to stay in Indonesian waters for one more week after its original permit expired on Friday.

However, he said the framework for cooperation in dealing with a case such as this did not exist, although an Australian delegation was expected in Jakarta next week to hammer out an agreement.

Meanwhile, Haris Azhar, deputy coordinator of the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras), called on Canberra to treat the Sri Lankans fairly.

“The Australian government should see the underlying reasons for them leaving their country and heading to Australia. The Sri Lankans just don’t feel safe in their country,” he said. “Please use a more humanistic approach to helping refugees.”

Haris also urged Australia to reveal the reasoning behind its persistent rejection of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers. “Refugees are an international concern — the Australian government must explain why it won’t accept the Sri Lankans,” he said.

Separately, a military spokesman, Air Vice Marshall Sagom Tamboen, reiterated that the Oceanic Viking would have to leave Indonesian waters by Friday at the latest.



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