Merak Tamil refugees warn of deportation threat


About 300 supporters from more than 30 groups rallied in Melbourne to call for the Australian government to let refugees into Australia. The rally opened with a motion of support for the 255 Tamil asylum seekers in the Indonesian port of Merak.

The rally recognised that without those on board the boat at Merak, the media would have got away with ignoring the inhumanity of the Australian government's "Indonesian solution". Rally participants wrote messages of support for the refugees on a giant calico card.

Indigenous activist Sharon Firebrace welcomed refugees to Australia and said that the Australian government had no right to stop refugees coming to Australia. Other speakers included long-time refugee activists and advocates, Pamela Curr and David Manne, Australian Tamil Congress representative Kanchana Senthura and Maritime Union of Australia Victorian secretary Kevin Bracken.

Two-hundred people also rallied in Perth on December 5.

On December 2, messages came from the asylum seekers in port at Merak that the Indonesian navy had surrounded the boat. The asylum seekers have been on the boat for close to 60 days and conditions remain grim.

Refugee-rights supporters feared the occupants of the boat would be forcibly removed, to go into hostile Indonesian detention or be deported back to Sri Lanka, a frightening possibility for these people who fled for their lives.

The following article is abridged from a statement by Sanjeev "Alex" Kuhendrarajah, released on behalf of the 254 asylum seekers on the boat on December 3.

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A very bizarre incident has just taken place that left many women and children curling up in fear with tears running down their faces, in a state of shock.

We left Sri Lanka to seek asylum in a safer country after spending 30 years in the middle of a catastrophic civil war and a genocide like never seen before. Our lives were threatened by the government and its merciless military force.

Once again we have been forced to live through the nightmare, as the Indonesian navy surrounded our boat with 15 or 20 rubber crafts, making a very clumsy effort to board our ship.

This happened while our children were asleep. They were abruptly awakened by the sounds of screaming women.

Some of those aboard the rubber navy crafts tried to board our ship. It was like a pirate movie. Our boat was under siege by men in dark camouflage, black paint streaked across their faces. One of them was able to get close to the window of the ship, and tried to put a black bag inside the boat. But his attempts were short lived, as we made sure no one boarded without identifying themselves.

Immediately after the failed attempt, the men withdrew, quickly splitting up in different directions, hiding in the shadows.

At about 5am, as the sun began to rise, they had nowhere to hide and we saw they were Indonesian navy personnel. When a highly armed battalion of roughly 100 soldiers appeared escorting a barge, we thought our lives were at risk or we would be forcibly removed from our boat. We started recording what was happening.

When the navy realised they had been recorded and the videos were being sent around the world, they apparently released a statement saying the events were simply part of a navy exercise.

We believe the Indonesian government was trying to forcefully remove us from the boat while the world was sleeping.

The government of Indonesia has not kept its promise of allowing us access to the UN High Commission for Refugees officials. This gives us more reason to not believe their promises to not forcibly remove us from the boat.

We have been in Indonesia for more than two months and we are starting to see many familiar characteristics between the Sri Lankan government and the Indonesian government.

As the Indonesian government has not signed the UN refugee convention, we believe our lives will always be at risk. We are afraid of being forcibly removed from the boat then deported back to the country from which we fled.