The Indonesian central government should allow dozens of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, including a pregnant woman and nine children, who have reached the coast of Lhoknga, Aceh, to disembark and meet UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) officials, Amnesty International said today.
“These people have endured a long and difficult journey already. Now that they have reached land in Aceh, they should be allowed to disembark and meet UNHCR officials,” said Josef Benedict, Amnesty International’s Director of Campaigns for South East Asia and the Pacific.
The organization fears that the Indonesian authorities may push the boat – reportedly carrying 44 people – back into international waters.
The Aceh fishermen discovered the boat off the coast of Aceh province on June 11. They subsequently reported the boat to the Indonesian navy who have not allowed the boat to disembark and the people on it to apply for asylum, arguing the asylum-seekers lack the proper documentation.
They remain on the boat along the Lhoknga coast, with the threat of being forced back into international waters lingering over them. Meanwhile, the authorities have not let UNHCR officials interview them and establish the veracity of their claims and identity.
“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,” said Benedict.
The boat began a hazardous journey from India after those on board reportedly fled Sri Lanka, where the members of the Tamil minority have suffered past persecution. Despite many recent improvements, there are still concerns about discriminatory practices against Tamils by law enforcement officials.
The group had set out from India, more than 1,700 km away, on a boat bearing an Indian flag. They had been travelling for 20 days, headed for Australia. As they neared the coast of Aceh, bad weather struck, stranding their boat off Lhoknga.
The UN Human Rights Council noted in April that Sri Lanka saw a spate of arrests of Tamils under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Arrests carried out under the PTA have, in a number of cases, failed to meet the minimum standards of due process laid out in directives by Sri Lanka’s National Human Rights Commission. Tamil Sri Lankans remain deeply concerned about what they say is a persistent culture of surveillance in the north and east of the country.
“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,” said Benedict.
Indonesia’s constitution recognizes the right to claim asylum and since 2011 the Indonesian authorities have been developing a Presidential Regulation on asylum-seekers and refugees. According to Indonesian NGOs the proposed regulation contains many positive measures, but has not yet been passed.