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Regional left groups statement on Tamil refugees


Respect human rights - free the refugees!
Reject Australia's 'Indonesian solution'
Australia should welcome the asylum seekers

All respect for elementary human rights and dignity have been thrown overboard as the governments of Australia, Indonesia and Malaysia refuse to accept the latest wave of Tamil asylum seekers fleeing war and oppression in Sri Lanka and instead treat them like criminals.

The Australian government is the only of these three governments to have signed the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees but it is refusing to carry out its obligations to asylum seekers under that convention.

For weeks, more than 250 Tamil-speaking people, including children, remain in dire conditions on a boat in Merak, Indonesia. Another 68 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, including children, remain on the Australian customs ship Oceanic Viking off Tanjung Pinang, Indonesia. Both groups are refusing to leave their boats for fear that Indonesia will lock them up in detention centres with a reputation for brutality and/or send them back to an uncertain future in Sri Lanka. On November 1, it was reported that a boat of asylum seekers had sunk near the Cocos Islands, an Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, and 12 are missing feared drowned.

Meanwhile, 207 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers are being held at the Immigration Detention Centre at Kuala Lumpar International Airport, and 108 Sri Lankan refugees are being detained at Pekan Nanas Immigration Detention Centre in Johor, Malaysia. Malaysia is both a transit point and a country of permanent asylum for tens of thousands of refugees from countries such as Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Australian PM Kevin Rudd claims its policy is "humane" but "tough". It is neither. The Rudd Labor government of Australia is bribing the Indonesian government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intercept the boats of asylum seekers on their way to Australia. This "Indonesian solution" out-sources Australia's obligation to asylum seekers to Indonesia just as its predecessor did to Nauru and PNG in the name of a "Pacific solution".

Many of those seeking asylum in Australia come from Sri Lanka where the Tamils have suffered from decades of brutal oppression at the hands of various Sinhala national chauvinist governments. The government of Mahinda Rajapaksa unleashed an all-out terror campaign this year, killing some 20,000 Tamil people in the month of May. Since the end of the military offensive, more than 300,000 Tamil people have been imprisoned in concentration-style camps and denied the right to return to their homes. It is estimated that 31,000 children are among those incarcerated, without proper access to shelter, food and medicine.

The Australian government, like many governments in the West and across Asia, supported the Rajapaksa regime throughout its final onslaught preferring to maintain trade links, including selling arms, rather than stop the Tamil minority from being massacred.

We condemn the Australia, Indonesian and Malaysian governments for their lack of commitment to the humanitarian problems faced by the refugees and we demand:

* That the governments of our countries withdraw financial and diplomatic support from the Sri Lankan government until it closes the concentration camps, and allows the Tamils trapped in camps to go back to their homes without fear of persecution.

* That no refugee fleeing war and persecution should be forced to return to the country they fled.

* That Australia, as a wealthy and developed country which has exploited its poorer neighbours, should immediately develop a program to settle tens of thousands of asylum seekers and take a leading role in helping reduce the misery of the world's millions of refugees, most of whom are trying to survive in desperate conditions in refugee camps in some of the world's poorest countries.

* That Australia allow the asylum seekers trapped in Indonesia to come to Australia to have their claims heard here and we condemn the Indonesian government for being a puppet for the Australian government in preventing refugees from going to Australia. This cooperation between these two governments is a threat not only to the Tamil refugees but to human rights in the region.

* That Australia must immediately close the Christmas Island refugee prison, close it down and allow those asylum seekers to live in freedom in Australia while their claims are processed.

* That the Indonesian, Malaysian and Australian governments respect the human rights of the refugees, give protection, humanitarian aid and accomodation to the refugees as long as they are in Indonesian territory and place no limitation for their rights to seek an asylum.

* That the Malaysian and Indonesian governments sign the UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, release the asylum seekers they have in detention and allow them full access to UNHCR and human rights groups.

We appeal to all democratic and progressive people in Indonesia, Malaysia and Australia, trade unions, human rights organisations and women's rights organisations to understand the plight of the asylum seekers and to support our demands.

November 5, 2009

[If your organisation would like to add its name to this statement, please write to the Socialist Alliance .]

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