Things have been quiet on the news front concerning the Tamil refugees holed up on a rickety old wooden-hulled boat in Merak harbour since the news that Alex their spokesman had disappeared at the beginning of last month*. However, we have not forgotten about them and neither have the Indonesian authorities, who have just issued them with yet another ultimatum. This one states that unless the Tamils, who have been on the boat for the last six months, come ashore within the next 5 days they will be forcibly removed from the Jaya Lestari 5 and deported immediately, with no chance of applying for asylum.
This obviously contravenes all international agreements and legislation against the refoulement of refugees but that does not seem to concern the Indonesian government who have become increasingly angry at their inability to get the Tamils to agree to come ashore. So much so that they have even been claiming in recent days that a deal has been reached. This has been denied by supporters of the refugees.
This morning officials from the UNHCR, the International Organisation for Migration and Indonesia's police and immigration departments arrived dockside. They boarded the boat and photographed everybody on board. Mobile phone and laptops were confiscated and the ultimatum issued. According to Nimal, one of the Tamils who has been acting as their spokesperson since Alex left, the officials also refused to answer any questions.
The Tamils have been holding off leaving the Jaya Lestari 5 until they get assurances that they will have their asylum applications considered, that they will not be placed in detention and that they get the same deal afforded the 78 Tamils from the MV Oceanic Viking last year. They have been expressly told that this will not happen according to Nimal, speaking via a mobile phone that the Indonesians had failed to confiscate. He also reiterated the Tamils' plea that the "Australian government must help us for resettlement," something that the Rudd government have steadfastly refused to do.
* Australian refugee advocate Ian Rintoul claimed that Sanjeev "Alex" Kuhendrarajah had decided to flee because he believed his presence was slowing progress toward a resolution of the stand-off. The Indonesian authorities had claimed that he was pressurising the rest of the Tamils to remain on board and was therefore a hindrance to any deal to end the siege, but given the continuance of the situation, this has been proved to be a lie. Alex however was not the first to try and escape from the boat, 16 had tried up to the date he left, but so far he is believed to be the only one not to have been recaptured and interned by the Indonesians.