NGO calls for govt to help Tamil asylum seekers stranded in Aceh


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An Aceh-based nongovernmental organization is calling for the government to allow dozens of Tamils from Sri Lanka who are stranded in Aceh to remain while they regain their strength before continuing on their trip to Australia.

A group of 44 Tamils, consisting of 20 men, 15 women -- one of whom is pregnant -- and nine children, needed to restore their physical and mental health in Aceh first, considering the impact the sea journey had made on them, Lilianne Fan, the international director of the Geutanyoe Foundation, an organization providing humanitarian assistance, said on Wednesday.

The local authorities must also allow survivors to be interview by the United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, as well as by humanitarian organisations who can help to identify and address any protection needs the group might have.

Fan cited Indonesia's experience and achievements in handling influxes of asylum seekers in previous years, including the Rohingyas from Myanmar, as providing a good foundation for handling the Tamils refugees.

The group had been sailing for about 20 days, fleeing what appears to be a deteriorating security situation in Sri Lanka, before the Indian-flagged boat got stranded in the Lhoknga waters of Aceh Besar regency on June 11 and was found by local fishermen.

Local authorities helped the Tamils, who were heading for Australia, by repairing their broken motor and providing them with food and fuel for their boat. They group departed from Lhoknga on June 12 only to return the next day when they asked for more fuel to continue their journey. 

Aceh immigration authorities, however, would not let them land in Aceh as they did not have passports and other relevant travel documents. Consequently, they stayed on their boat two kilometers from the shore as they refused to set sail unless they could get more assistance.

"The fact that they have still not left Aceh’s waters indicates that the group may indeed wish to temporarily disembark in Aceh and there are urgent needs that remain to be addressed," Fan said in a press statement.

The Geutanyoe Foundation wanted to remind the government of Indonesia and all stakeholders that the right to seek asylum is a fundamental right as stipulated in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The foundation also sent a letter to President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo on Monday calling for the protection of the Tamil asylum seekers, Fan added. (rin)

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