Tamil refugees ‘questioned by Sri Lankan officials’

ANDRA JACKSON January 9, 2010
SRI Lankan embassy officials and naval officers have been allowed to question Tamil asylum seekers held in Indonesia, refugee advocates have claimed.Those allegedly questioned include eight asylum seekers who had been trying to reach Australia when they were intercepted by Indonesia at Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s request. One of the officials was Captain Kapil of the Sri Lankan embassy in Jakarta, Australian refugee advocate Saradha Nathan said last night.

The eight asylum seekers were originally on the boat in the port of Merak – at the centre of a 3½-month stand-off – that 244 other Tamil asylum seekers are still on.

The eight Tamils agreed to be moved to a detention centre in the hope of having their asylum claim fast-tracked. The others on board are refusing to leave, despite deteriorating health and sanitation concerns, unless taken to Australia for processing.

Under the 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention, third countries are expected to protect refugees from being interrogated by officials from the country they fled.

However, Indonesia is not a signatory to the convention.

“The [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] should protect the refugees from such interrogation,” Mr Nathan said. ”Indonesia should not allow Sri Lanka to have access to the asylum seekers when they are trying to flee from persecution.”

The Sri Lankan navy officers were attempting to negotiate for the eight detainees to return to Sri Lanka, and had threatened to deport all those on the boat at Merak to the Boosa jail in Sri Lanka, he said. This was reportedly the fate of one asylum seeker in Indonesia who returned to Sri Lanka to care for his sick mother early in December. He is in jail in Sri Lanka, Mr Nathan said.

The asylum seekers are also fearful that their details will be given to the Sri Lankan Government, because this may endanger their families.

”As the Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took the initiative to push the boat back to Indonesian authorities, Australia should now take responsibility and rectify this humanitarian crisis,” Mr Nathan said.

Last year, Australia’s Immigration Department paid a compensation settlement for allowing Chinese Government officials to enter the Villawood detention centre and question Chinese detainees, many of them Falun Gong members.