URGENT ACTION NEEDED FROM AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT TO RESOLVE THE SITUATION OF MERAK ASYLUM SEEKERS

URGENT ACTION NEEDED FROM AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT TO RESOLVE THE SITUATION OF

MERAK ASYLUM SEEKERS

Two Australian refugee activists detained and questioned by Indonesian police in Merak have been deported by Indonesian immigration authorities, will arrive in Australia on Saturday morning (30 January).

Tamil community activist, Sara Nathan, will arrived at Sydney international airport at 7.40am Saturday, 30 January and is available for media comment.

Their deportation follows claims that they violated the conditions of their visas by being in the restricted area around the boat of Tamil asylum seekers at Merak. Under conditions placed on the return of their passports they were not allowed to make comments to the media. They are also barred from returning to Indonesia for six months.

Australian consular officials and Indonesian legal aid representatives provided support at their interview with the Indonesian chief minister immigration on Thursday afternoon, Indonesian time.

“Claims by the immigration authorities that we entered the restricted area at the boat are completely untrue. We were in the public area beyond the boundary of the port.

“The claims that I was associated with people smuggling are also completely baseless.  At first I was meant to be associated with “Nathan” the people smuggler (part of my maiden surname is Nathan but my married name is NOT Nathan), by

distributing Australian humanitarian visa forms – something that was actually suggested by Australian DFAT. Later the claims changed to being in the restricted area around the boat.

“We were in Indonesia because of our concern for the welfare and the future of the asylum seekers on the boat at Merak. That remains our central concern,” said Sara Nathan, on her arrival at Sydney airport.

“Being detained and deported won’t hide the injustice of leaving the people on the boat for three months without proper support. The deportation will not stop us campaigning against the Indonesian solution or for justice for

the people at Merak.

“If Kevin Rudd had not called on the Indonesian government to intercept the boat to Merak, none of this would have happened. The Australian government urgently needs to play a role in resolving the situation it created. The Indonesia Ministry of Foreign Affairs have indicated that Australia should coordinate the resettlment of these refugees and not outsource the refugee warehousing to Indonesia. Perahps the deporation of Australian refugee advocates is a strong message from Indonesia to the Australian government.

“The Indonesian government has placed a complete ban on access to the boat by welfare groups, NGOs and journalists. That ban should be lifted. We have suggested a way forward for the immigration verification of the asylum seekers and processing by the UNHCR,” Nathan said.  “Such processing would pave the way for Australia to play a role in the re-settlement of those found to be refugees. There is an urgent need for the Australian government to provide the assistance that Indonesia needs to guarantee the safety and future of the asylum seekers.

“News that Sri Lankan opposition leader, Sarath Fonseka, himself accused of war crimes in his role as leader of the army, may ask Australia for asylum is testament to the dangers that any opponents of the Sri Lankan government face. Just like those fleeing the Taliban in Afghanistan, Tamils are fleeing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.

“Australia, as a signatory to the Refugee Convention, should live up to its obligations and welcome those fleeing persecution – including those at Merak.”

For further information and media comment contact Sara Nathan 0412 236 703 or Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

relevant articles at

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2010/01/30/2805526.htm?section=justin

http://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2010/01/29/australian-canadian-activists-freed-without-charge.html

http://www.radioaustralia.net.au/connectasia/stories/201001/s2803714.htm

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