Sri Lankan Refugee Camp . .
Since when did a leaky boat full of Sri Lankans, found by Australian Customs in Indonesian waters get to choose their refugee destination?
I must be getting grumpy in my old age but lately we've been visited by four or five little boats intercepted in Indonesian or Australian waters, jam packed with Sri Lankans claiming to be Tamil refugees afraid of returning to their homeland in fear of their lives.
The 78 asylum seekers were rescued open international waters and are subject to an agreement between Australia and Indonesia which means they will be 'processed' in a detention camp in Indonesia by the United National High Commission for Refugees. However, the Indonesians won't 'force' them off the Australian Customs ship - Oceanic Viking. All have refused identity checks and medical assistance and do not want to disembark. Their intended destination was Australia. So after 10 days aboard the ship being fed, watered, translated and represented, we have reached gridlock.
The asylum seekers, 10 of whom are women and children, are due to be taken to an Australian-funded detention centre on the Island of Bintan, where some detainees have alleged they have been beaten by guards. Well this is Indonesia and I have no love of their corrupt system.
The bottom line is that illegal refugees have no choice as to where they can claim asylum. We picked them up, we rescued them and now they're getting picky about their accommodation!
Then the compassionate person screaming in my head says that this smacks of shirking responsibility by Australia. Being institutionalised and processed in Australia would be more humane, quicker and in the interim, although the refugees are incarcerated, they are receiving medical attention, English lessons, free legal representation and a comfortable, dry place to live.
The consensus seems to be that if indeed these people are 'genuine' we would accept them into Australia on compassionate grounds. The facilities at Christmas Island are being expanded and they should be lobbed there for processing.
Get them in, process them, if they're refugees give them protection, if they're not send them back.
These are desperate people who have resorted to desperate measures to escape desperate times:
These stories courtesy of Ruth Fremson/ The New York Times:
A 25-year-old former computer student, S. Indra Meenan, described long periods of shelling: “In the village, every house had a bunker. Five or six people sitting inside, sometimes for three or four hours.” He said that the Tamil Tigers sometimes fired from areas close to where the civilians were residing, putting them at risk from retaliatory fire. “We left [by boat] on April 20 because we were scared. There was so much bombing and shelling. Every day, at least three or four hours, there was shelling. The firing was coming from the Sri Lankan army.”
A motorbike taxi driver, S. Indra Kumar, told Human Rights Watch that his family went to Putumattalan on the coast after the Sri Lankan government declared the area a safe zone: “We were living in such fear. There was constant shelling. On April 5 or 6, our neighbors were injured in the shelling. A shell landed inside the bunker. Ten people were injured, and of them, five died. There was no anesthesia. The doctors had to cut off a girl’s hand without any anesthesia. My six-year-old daughter was crying and scared. I decided then that we had to leave.”
Jagdeshwaran told Human Rights Watch about the journey by boat that included his wife and two children and his wife’s relatives: “My son died on April 24, four days after getting on the boat. He was four-years-old. We had no water, no food on the boat. Then her father died. Her two brothers jumped into the sea. My wife was in shock. She was weak and not even able to move. That morning, April 29, she asked for some water. We gave her seawater. She vomited and then she passed away.” His eight-month-old baby boy Kubera survived because he was on breast milk.
These are just three of their stories . . now you tell me, do they deserve a place here?