Saturday, August 27, 2011


       Their misery came into the public spotlight on Wednesday (Aug 24) when five Sri Lankan men decided to jump off the boat, They swam for more than two hours to a nearby isle because they could no longer stand living aboard the boat with very limited food and water that had to be shared with over 80 other immigrants.
        The action of the five men later inspired 13 others to disembark from the boat on Thursday (Aug 24), followed on Friday (Aug 25) by the remaining 71 people.
       They were immediately sent to the Tanjungpinang Immigration Detention Center (Rudenim) after leaving their boat voluntarily, the center`s chief, Sugiyo, said in Tanjungpinang, Riau Islands Province, on Friday (Aug 26).
       The Sri Lankans who claimed they were refugees who wanted to ask for political asylum in New Zealand or Canada had been staying aboard the MV Alicia in Tanjungpinang waters since July 10, 2011, after their boat had been nabbed in Riau Strait waters, Batam, Sumatra, by Indonesian security personnel.
       Previously, they had stubbornly refused to leave their boat despite requests to do so by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Indonesian authorities, because they were determined to continue their journey to New Zealand.

"We will not disembark. We want to go to New Zealand," they said when they were arrested in July. According to sources, at the time they felt they could stay on board the ship as they had enough supplies for one month.

Some of the Sri Lankan immigrants had previously said they would rather die on their ship if forced to disembark before they obtained a guarantee from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the New Zealand authorities that they would be accepted in New Zealand.

"All my family were killed in Sri Lanka, and I would rather die here if forced to leave the ship," Shasi Radan, one of the immigrants, said in fluent Malay after living in Malaysia for two years.

Last July 2011, they had put up banners and shouted their demand to let them go to New Zealand. "Help us. We need to go to New Zealand," they said.

In one of the banners they thanked the Indonesian government that had helped them. They also expressed hope for help from the United Nations.

They had also written in other banners that they were not terrorists or people smugglers but war refugees from Sri Lanka.

They said they still would not return to Sri Lanka if New Zealand rejected them. They would try to find another country that would accept them.

There were initially 87 Sri Lankan immigrants comprising 76 men, six women, and five children, aboard the boat, but a baby was born recently at Tanjungpinang hospital. The wife of Makesu Silvakumaran, leader of the Sri Lankan immigrants, delivered a baby at the Tanjungpinang hospital in early August.

"We are now checking the newly disembarked Sri Lankan immigrants," Sugiyo, the detention center`s chief, said, but he refused to comment on a report that the immigrants had surrendered because they were hungry.

Last July 2011, the UNHCR representative in Indonesia had asked the Sri Lankan immigrants to disembark from their boat, the MV Alicia, for registration and verification.

"They must get off the boat for registration and verification whether they are refugees or not," Manuel Jordao, the UNHCR Representative in Indonesia, said after holding a meeting with representatives of the Sri Lankan foreign ministry and immigration office at the Sri Bintan Pura international seaport, Tanjungpinang, Riau Islands, last July.

After holding on the boat for more than a month in Tanjungpinang waters, they finally gave up due to nearly starvation.

"There is no more sugar, fish, meat and salt in the boat, only rice," Prem Kumar, one of the five immigrants who had jumped off the boat, said.

He said the people aboard the MV Alicia were in "very bad" condition because they did not have enough food and drinking water.

They could each have only one small bottle of mineral water per one person for two days. "We are thirsty," Prem Kumar said.

Prem Kumar and four other immigrants, namely Tharma Palan, Syakaran, Kajan and Theepan jumped off the MV Alicia at 3.30 am local time. The five men then swam toward an island but only three of them (Tharma, Prem Kumar and Syakaran) reached Penyengat Island at about 6 am local time.

Two of them, Kajan and Theepan, had been reportedly missing but were finally found at noon on the same day.

At first, they claimed that they had to leave the boat to get medical treatment because they were sick, despite objection from the boat`s captain. But, later they admitted that they were hungry and desperate.

Earlier in August, seven of the immigrants had been admitted to the Tanjungpinang General Hospital because of illness, I Gede Widiartha, the head of the Riau Islands Provincial law and human rights office, said recently.

One immigrant was suffering from diabetes, two had undergone hernia surgery, two others teeth surgery, and another surgery to take out metal fragments from head, hand, body and thigh, he said.

The immigrants were free to get medical services and the costs were borne by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Masni Eriza of the foreign ministry`s human rights and humanity affairs, said.

Masni said the Indonesian authorities had earlier persuaded them to leave their boat so they could get better health services and accommodation.

"We hope they will realize and are willing to leave the ship because living aboard the ship is unhealthy due to so many limitations," she said.

However, the Indonesian government did not want to rush or ask them to leave the boat by force, according to her.

According to the Riau Islands water police, 23 Sri Lankans had left Jakarta in June 2011 after buying MV Alicia for Rp1.92 billion through someone identified as Pinky Gozaly. On June 13, 2011 they had left for Batam and stopped in Nongsa waters, Senior Commissioner Yassin Kosasih said.

Makesu Selvakumaran, the captain and leader of the immigrants, had picked up 64 others in Johor Baru, Malaysia, by a speed boat on June 27, 2011, before they intended to head to New Zealand.

But now they all now end up in the Tanjungpinang Immigration Detention Center, which was built with Australian financial assistance, which have already accommodated around 324 illegal immigrants from various countries.

Indonesia is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, meaning asylum seekers in this country are processed by the UNHCR and the IOM, and forced to wait - many of them for many years - to be finally 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, despite the fact that most of them are those trying to escape armed conflicts in their countries, especially Afghanistan, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. ***4***


(T.F001/A/F001/A/H-YH) 27-08-2011 21:40:13

No comments:

Post a Comment