First Merak Tamil refugees to come to Australia

March 7, 2012
Merak Tamils protesting at the Medan UNHCR office in Indonesia, March 7. Photo courtesy of Refugee Action Coalition Sydney

The Refugee Action Coalition Sydney released the statement below on March 8.

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Tamil refugees from the boat stranded in 2009 in Merak, Indonesia, after being stopped at the request of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, have been told that 24 of their number have been accepted to be resettled in Australia.

The announcement came only a couple of hours after a demonstration of about 80 of the 134 recognised refugees at the Medan United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) offices in protest at the long delays in their resettlement.

The Merak Tamils were promised that Australia would play a role in their resettlement when they got off the asylum boat in 2010. But late last year they were told that Australia had rejected 40 of the referred refugees.

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UNHCR Indonesia then told them that their names had been referred to New Zealand, and they would have an answer by the end of January.

When no answer was forthcoming, they staged yesterday’s demonstration. Despite being told by UNHCR officials at Medan hat they had no answers for them, within two hours of the demonstration, the Merak Tamils had been told 24 had been accepted by Australia.

“After two years of waiting, this is very welcome news,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition, “but there are still 110 people that have been waiting too long. They have been forced to wait too long already. The Labor government needs to make good on its promise to the Merak Tamils.

“The treatment of the Merak Tamils makes a mockery of the government’s claims to be concerned about asylum seekers making dangerous boat journeys. It is the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees that are pushing people onto boats.

“These refugees spent a year in detention in Tanjung Pinang, before they were all found to be refugees. Yet the government has until now refused to resettle them. Some who took second boats to Australia got visas months ago.

“The recent death of the Afghan asylum seeker in Kalimantan is just the latest indication of the danger that asylum seekers face in Indonesia. We hope the government now acts quickly to resettle all the Merak Tamils. They have been pushed from pillar to post between the UNHCR and the Australian government. But it is clear that the responsibility lies with the Australian government.

“Unless the government acts, there are another 110 refugees who will have to get a boat if they are going to get to safety.”

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