Indonesia will allow 44 Australian-bound asylum seekers from Sri Lanka to temporarily disembark in Aceh Besar district, Aceh, Thursday morning (16/06) for food and boat repair after they were stranded for five days at the waters off Lhoknga coast.
Aceh provincial administration spokesman Fran Dellian said the asylum seekers were allowed to come ashore after Vice President Jusuf Kalla sent a memo on Wednesday afternoon instructing Aceh Governor Zaini Abdullah to temporarily host the asylum seekers.
In the memo, Kalla instructed the Aceh government to provide food to the 44 asylum seekers, which include a pregnant woman and nine children. The memo also said Aceh must help to repair the boat and provide fuel before they are released back to international waters.
However, none of asylum seekers are allowed to land their feet in Aceh soil, Fran said.
Indonesian authorities normally place asylum seekers intercepted in Indonesian waters to detention centers, where their asylum status is then processed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration (IOM).
There are currently more than 13,000 refugees and asylum-seekers registered with the UNHCR in the archipelago, while detention centers in Indonesia are overcapacity.
Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s director of campaigns for Southeast Asia and Pacific, has called on the Indonesian government to allow the asylum seekers to disembark and meet UNHCR officials for interviews.
“We are calling on the Indonesian authorities to adopt a consistent approach in these cases. Last year Indonesia won much acclaim for providing refugees and migrants with much-needed assistance during the Andaman Sea boat crisis. It will be a grave injustice if people seeking international protection had their right to seek asylum ignored in Indonesia,” Benedict said in a statement on Wednesday.
“Refugees and asylum-seekers frequently travel without identity documents, as often these documents are either difficult to obtain or get lost during the journey. This has no consequence on these people’s right to seek asylum. UNHCR should be allowed to register them immediately,” he added.
The group — comprising of Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority — had traveled for more than 20 days heading to Australia on a boat bearing an Indian flag. Despite many recent improvements, there are still concerns about discriminatory practices against Tamils by law enforcement officials in Sri Lanka. (Jakarta Globe)