Merak Tamil refugees need support

December 2, 2009

The Sydney-based Refugee Action Coalition's Ian Rintoul has sent a letter to the International Organisation of Migration in Indonesia asking that it urgently intervene to provide medical care to the asylum seekers on the boat at Merak.

The letter said: "Some asylum seekers have collapsed from extreme vomiting and diarrhea. Urgently needed medical attention, including transport to hospital, has been unavailable.

"We fear an even greater medical emergency may develop on the boat. Children have been losing weight over the weeks that the boat has been stranded in Merak.

"They also urgently need replacement tarpaulins and tents to provide adequate shelter from the heavy rains. Shortage of fuel for generators will also soon mean that there will be no power supply for lights or for recharging phones needed in cases of emergency."

The lack of official help for the asylum seekers was revealed on November 11. Then, three Australia-based activists one-and-a-half hours on the phone to Indonesian authorities to get an ambulance to transport a 24-year-old man who had collapsed that night, after he suffered vomiting and diarrhea, and became unconscious.

Among the more than 250 asylum seekers, there are two elders and 31 children (including infants), one pregnant woman and a few very sick people who need close attention and better treatment. There are also 15 diabetics on board, who have had no access to insulin for weeks.

There is a nine-month old baby on board, born in a bunker during the last stages of the war against Tamils in Sri Lanka.

There is only one toilet.

The boat was built to carry only 40-50 people. Due to the limited space, the refugees take turns to sleep.

Socialist Party organiser Anthony Main visited the boat recently. He wrote: "The weather in Merak is extremely unpleasant. The rainy season has started to set in which means it is wet, windy and humid. The boat is covered by tarpaulins but in many areas, these covers are torn and when the rain is heavy, the decks get covered in water. This means people are sleeping in wet areas, often without enough clothes and blankets to keep them warm."

The International Organisation of Migration withdrew support for those on board in mid-November. In response, the asylum seekers signed a desperate appeal to Australians for help.

In Sydney, 150 people rallied on November 29 in support of refugee-rights. Sanjeev "Alex" Kuhendrarajah, who is on the boat, told the rally by phone: "We will not be silenced. But we need support and for people to reach out for governments to solve this situation."

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