Thursday, January 21, 2010

Sri Lankan Immigrants Finally Off to Third Countries by Fardah

    Jakarta, Jan. 21, 2010 (ANTARA) - After staying in Riau's immigration detention center for almost three months, all 78 Sri Lankan immigrants, who had earlier been 'rescued' by Australia's customs vessel Oceanic Viking, have finally left Riau, for third countries, either Australia, Canada or New Zealand.
        Escorted by Indonesian foreign ministry and Australian embassy officials, the last batch of the immigrants left Riau on Wednesday (Jan. 20). The 16 immigrants were flown to Jakarta before proceeding to Australia and the Philippines.
        "They are the last batch of a total of 78 Sri Lankan immigrants who were accommodated at the Tanjungpinang immigration detention center after they had to get off the Australian vessel Oceanic Viking," Samsu Rizal, an Indonesian foreign ministry official, said in Tanjungpinang, Riau Province, Wednesday (Jan. 20).

        "Three of them will be flown to Melbourne, Australia, and 13 others to the Philippines from Jakarta," Samsu Rizal said.
        The 13 immigrants headed to the Philippines still had to complete their travel documents before proceeding to New Zealand to resettle, he said.
        "One thing is clear; they are leaving Indonesia for third countries," he said.
        Earlier, 15 of the 78 Sri Lankans had been transferred to Canada on December 19. Sujatmiko, the foreign ministry's director of diplomatic security, said, the 15 Sri Lankans were an extended family consisting of children, adult women and men.
        Thirty four more in late December were deported to Australia. "All of the 34 Sri Lanka immigrants left Tanjung Pinang for Batam and took a direct flight to Australia," he said.

        Director of diplomatic security at the Foreign Ministry Sujatmiko said then the Australian government had earlier promised the immigrants permission to stay in Australia if they had papers confirming their refugee status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

        The deportation of Sri Lanka refugee in Indonesia to Canada and Australia, he added, was part of the Australian government's initiative.

        He explained the 78 Sri Lankans were allowed to stay on Indonesian territory for some time because Indonesia wanted to help Australia overcome the problem they posed after they were caught trying to reach Australian shores in rickety boats.

        "But this will be the last time we are helping Australia deal with its foreign refugee influx problem," Sujatmiko said adding that Indonesia did not incur any expenditures for the deportation since all the related costs were borne by the United Nations.

        "Indonesia is also not receiving any material profit from this case," he said.

        The 78 Sri Lankans had been nabbed by the Australian authorities during their journey to Christmas island last October 18, 2009.

        After reportedly receiving 'the green light' from Indonesian authorities, the Oceanic Viking with the 78 Sri Lanka refugees aboard, cast anchor in waters near Cempedak Island, Bintan District, Riau Islands Province, Sumatra, on October 26, 2009.

        Australian authorities had hoped the asylum seekers could then be transferred to Tanjungpinang immigration detention center - a way out which people in Australia promptly referred to as the 'Indonesian solution'.

        The 78 Sri Lanka asylum seekers had in the beginning refused to leave MV Oceanic Viking and insisted they should be taken to Australia. They threatened suicide if forced to disembark in Indonesia.

        As the standoff continued, the Indonesian authorities had allowed the Australian ship to stay in Sumatran waters until November 6, and later it had been extended to November 13, 2009.

        Later on, the refugees had been finally willing to leave the boat and be transferred by Mutiara Emas ferry to Tanjungpinang where they would accommodated at an immigration detention center after being persuaded that they might be granted refugee status after getting refugee status letters from UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) officers in Riau Islands Province.

        The asylum seekers had been given a promise that they would be able to stay in Australia if they got letters confirming that they were refugees.

        Last October 2009, Indonesia did two favors to Australia regarding Sri Lankan asylum seekers intending to go to Australia.

        First, it was on October 11, when Indonesia's Navy intercepted a boat with about 255 Sri Lankans aboard and took them to Merak harbor, Banten.

        Second, it was when Indonesia agreed to take the group of 78 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, from the Oceanic Viking ship which had picked them on Oct. 18 after sending out a distress signal in Indonesia's search and rescue zone.

        Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, meaning asylum seekers in this country are processed by the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration and forced to wait - many of them for many years - to be resettled in a third country.

        Boat people heading to Australia are often regarded by both Indonesia and Australia as illegal migrants or a people smuggling problem. The fact is that most of them are those trying to escape armed conflicts in their countries, especially Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

        Despite the departure of the 78 refugees, it seems that the foreign immigrant problem is still far from over.

        The more than 250 Sri Lankans are still staying in a boat which cast anchor in Merak waters. One of the refugees who was identified as Yakob, died of illness recently. Up to now, their future is still uncertain.

        Last January 4, Police in Bintan in the Sumatran Kepulauan Riau province arrested 11 Sri Lankan immigrants consisting of seven male adults, two female adults and two children. They claimed that they had come from Malaysia.

        "We caught them hiding on the edge of Nirwana Garden Coastal Resort at around 6am," the head of the Bintan resort police, Adjunct Senior Commissioner Yohanes Widodo said in his confirmation to ANTARA. (f001/A/HAJM/B003) 2. 15:20. (T.F001/A/F001/B003) 21-01-2010 19:47:56

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