Three Tamil refugees disappear after forcibly returned to Sri Lanka

Refugee Action Coalition NSW media release

A year ago, then prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Indonesian President Yudhoyono requesting that the Indonesian navy intercept a boat carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers to Australia. The boat was the subject of
international attention after the asylum seekers refused to disembark at Merak in Indonesia. In April 2010, the asylum seekers were forcibly removed to Tanjung Pinang detention centre.

Except for two families shifted to detention in Medan, all the Tamils remain in appalling conditions in Tanjung Pinang.

On the anniversary of the interception of the Jaya Lestari 5, three Tamils refugees (two from the Merak boat) who voluntarily returned to Sri Lanka on Wednesday have been arrested on their return. Refugee advocates have fears for their safety, as family members have no news of them.

It has also reported by Tamil refugees still in Tanjung Pinang that both IOM and UNHCR advised them not to return. The disappearances come only weeks after Amnesty International issued an international action alert when other Sri Lankans asylum seekers returned from Australia were detained and beaten by Sri Lankan authorities.

The disappearances have re-newed calls from refugee advocates and Tamil representatives for the Australian government to live up to its commitment to consider re-settlement of the Merak people once UNHCR processing was complete.

While a handful wait for final determination, all of the Merak Tamils so far processed by the UNHCR in Indonesia have been found to be refugees.

“The Australian government must act urgently to arrange the immediate release and the re-settlement of the Merak Tamils,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The Tamil asylum seekers have always been Australia’s responsibility. But Kevin Rudd’s Indonesian Solution has condemned these refugees to indefinite detention in Indonesia.

“The disappearance of two refugees in Sri Lanka highlights the danger for them and the the on-going human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. Those remaining in Indonesia are fearful that information extracted under questioning or torture will leave them and their families in Sri Lanka at further risk.

Tamil refugee advocate and community representative, Sara Nathan, said:

“Following the then PM Minister’s Kevin Rudd’s call, Australia has wiped its hands off the case and left the burden onto the reluctant and economically struggling Indonesia.

“It resulted in the death of three asylum seekers as a direct result of them being intercepted. One died of medical negligence in Indonesia and the other two died trying to board another boat on its way to Australia.”

“The fate of the Merak Tamils reveals everything that is wrong with Julia Gillard’s proposed regional processing centre. It provides no certainty for refugees and is just another way of Australia avoiding its responsibility to welcome asylum seekers at its borders,” added Rintoul.

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713 or Sara Nathan 0412 236 703