The stand off between the Tamil asylum seekers on the ancient wooden cargo vessel in Merak harbour, West Java has turned into a media frenzy, one that the Australian authorities would rather not the world was seeing. The standard policy of the Australian government has been to isolate refugees and asylum seekers, either in the desert at Woomera or on remote Pacific islands. An out of site out of mind policy.
Now, with the very public hunger strike being carried out on the boat in the full glare of the worldwide media, with children testifying directly to camera in fluent English, the true face of the desperation of these people who give up their homes and what they own and spend months travelling half way around the world in the hope of finding a safer life in another country, is there for all to see. So is the intransigence of the Australian authorities and the complicity and bad faith of the Indonesians, as the local navy commander Colonel Irawan claims that as many as 70 per cent of those on board wanted to disembark whilst the entire boat loudly denies this.
Many of the Tamils have also stopped taking fluids as some of their number have started fainting from lack of food, heat and dehydration caused by constant exposure to salt water.