The following statement was released today by refugee activists from Australia, Canada and Indonesia:
“The Merak refugees and the Indonesian Solution, not people smuggling, should be at the top of the agenda for discussions between the Australian government and Indonesian… President Yudhoyono,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.
“The Australian government is trying to implicate the Indonesian government in its violation of the Refugee Convention. That is not the action of a friend. The Indonesian solution is actually making things worse for refugees in Indonesia and actually forcing more people onto boats. Resettlement must be on the agenda.”
“Kevin Rudd uses people smuggling to criminalise the refugees themselves to justify detention in Australia and Indonesia. But the problem is not people smuggling. The problem is that there is secure future for refugees in Indonesia.
“Until the Australian government is willing to process and resettle refugees out of Indonesia, the boats will keep coming. Heavier penalties and stiffer sentences will not stop people fleeing persecution,” said Rintoul.
March 10, the day the Indonesian President addresses the Australian parliament will also mark the 150th day that the refugee boat has been stranded at Merak.
There is an urgent need for the Australian and Indonesian governments to resolve the situation at Merak. Kevin Rudd made the call to president Yudhoyono to stop the Jaya Lestari in October last year. One of the Tamil asylum seekers died on 23 December 2009 waiting for proper medical attention. Medical attention at the boat have improved in the last few days, but the asylum seekers are still refusing to leave the boat until there is a guarantee of resettlement.
“The asylum seekers on the boat are ultimately Australia’s responsibility. Until there is an enduring outcome for refugees in Australia, they will, sooner or later, make their way to Australia. Some people have already left the boat to do that,” said Ian Rintoul.
“The Australian and Indonesian governments must use President Yudhoyono’s state visit to put an end to the suffering and uncertainty of the refugees at Merak and the others in detention in Indonesia.
Refugee advocates in Australia, Canada and Indonesia have issued a joint statement (attached) calling for the Indonesian government to begin immigration verification and UNHCR processing and for the Australian government to commit to resettling those at Merak found to be refugees.