Amnesty International asks Indonesia to receive Tamils in Aceh

"These people have taken a long and difficult journey. Now, after they reached Aceh, they must be allowed to land and meet with UNHCR staff," Josef Benedict, Amnesty International`s Campaign Director for Southeast Asia and Pacific, said.
London (ANTARA News) - Amnesty International has asked Indonesia to allow dozens of Tamils from Sri Lanka, who are stranded in the waters off Aceh province, to land and meet with the UNHCR officials on Indonesian soil.

"These people have taken a long and difficult journey. Now, after they reached Aceh, they must be allowed to land and meet with UNHCR staff," Josef Benedict, Amnesty Internationals Campaign Director for Southeast Asia and Pacific, told ANTARA here on Thursday.

Amnesty International is concerned that Indonesian authorities might drive the boat into international waters with 44 people on board, including a pregnant woman and nine children.

Aceh fishermen discovered the boat close to the Aceh waters on June 11, and reported it to the navy, which has not allowed the passengers to reach shore, saying they have no documents.

The refugees still remain on the boat along the Lhoknga coast. Indonesian authorities also have not allowed UNHCR staff to interview the boats occupants to confirm their claims and identities.

"Refugees and asylum seekers have often gone without documents displaying their identities, as documents have often been difficult to obtain or they might have been lost during the journey. This is not related with their right to obtain asylum. UNHCR must be allowed to register them immediately," Josef Benedict said.

The boat traveled from India, after its passengers were reported fleeing from Sri Lanka, where minority Tamil suffered persecutions in the past.

While much has improved, there are still concerns over discrimination against the Tamil by law enforcement officials.

The group left India, traveling more than 1,700 km to Aceh, while carrying an Indian flag. They had sailed for 20 days to Australia when they faced bad weather, causing the boat to become stranded near Lhokna in Aceh waters.

"I wish Indonesian authorities would adopt a consistent policy to deal with cases like this," he said.

Last year, Indonesia received much praise for providing help assistance to refugees and migrants during a boat crisis in Andaman waters.

Benedict said it would be an injustice if people seeking international protection would be prevented from receiving asylum in Indonesia.

The Indonesian constitution recognizes the right to asylum and, since 2011, Indonesian authorities have drafted a presidential regulation regarding asylum seekers and refugees that non-governmental organizations have considered to be very positive. Until now, however, the draft regulation has not been passed in the legislature.(*)

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