On January 18, the 250 Tamil asylum seekers in Merak, Indonesia, had spent 100 days on their boat in appalling conditions. This is despite almost half of them being already recognised by the United Nations as refugees.
A global day of protest was held in solidarity with them, and against the Australian government's "Indonesia solution".
The refugees have refused to get off their boat — fearing imprisonment in Indonesia or deportation to Sri Lanka — after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd last year personally requested that their boat, en route to Australia, be intercepted by Indonesian authorities.
Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition (RAC), said: "International protests have put the Rudd government on notice that the world is watching what happens to the asylum seekers at Merak.
"Kevin Rudd's 'Indonesian solution' is a matter of international concern."
Thirty people, including a large contingent from the Tamil community, protested outside the Australian consulate offices in Auckland. In Malaysia, refugee supporters delivered more than 1750 campaign postcards to the Australian High Commission.
There were also protests in Canada and London.
In Sydney, more than 60 people staged a lively protest vigil outside Rudd's office. Representatives from the Tamil community, the NSW Greens, Community Action Against Homophobia and RAC addressed the protest.
In Perth, despite the 41°C heat, 20 people held a picket at immigration minister Chris Evans' office.
Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young flew to Melbourne to join the protest there. Protesters got a chance to hear directly from Sanjeev Alex Kuhendrarajah, a spokesperson for the asylum seekers, via phone link-up from the boat.
He called on the Greens and other Australians to take up the cause for the asylum seekers to be resettled in Australia. One person who came to the protest has a brother on the boat.
Other speakers included Kanchana Senthuran from the Australian Tamil Congress, Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and Budi Setyo from Indonesia Solidarity.
Forty people attended a rally in Newcastle, organised by the Newcastle No War Collective. Via phone, they heard Brindha, a nine-year-old girl onboard the boat, ask of the Australian government "why can't you take us?" The rally demanded that the government reply to her.
[Brindha's plea via phone can be heard by following the link posted at www.socialist-alliance.org/newcastle.]