Tamils plead with Rudd for help
AAP/Brisbane Times – Tamil asylum seekers cry for help
“We are Sri Lankan refugees, please take us to your country, we can’t live in Sri Lanka,” cries nine-year-old Brindah.
“Please help us and save our lives.
“We are your children. Please think of us.”
Brindah is one of about 250 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers crammed on to the bow of a rickety wooden cargo boat moored alongside an Indonesian navy ship in Merak, western Java.
They are sitting shoulder to shoulder, as if posing for a giant class photo.
The navy, which apprehended the Tamils – who were en route to Australia – before bringing them to Merak, has let a small group of journalists on board the vessel to meet the asylum seekers.
The group have been trying to reach Australia for months. They spent a month in the Malaysian jungle before joining the boat, which they have now been aboard for two weeks.
Their spokesman, Alex, says they can endure much more: they will stay on board until they are offered asylum in a Western country such as Australia.
“If you come see the situation in Sri Lanka, where most Tamils live … you can see it’s a lot worse than living on this ship,” he says.
“So most of these people are used to a life like this.
“We’re comfortable in a life like this.
“So I can guarantee you, we can go on for months.”
Alex says they are fleeing genocide in Sri Lanka. They just want to reach a place that can offer them a future.
To return to Sri Lanka would mean certain death, he says. To stay in Indonesia would mean years in limbo while they wait for a third country to accept them as refugees.
“We don’t want to be stuck in a situation like that,” he says. “We are staying on this boat until the international community comes together and makes a decision on finding a way to get us out of this country.”
The Tamils set sail for Australia believing it would accept them and grant them refuge, Alex says.
It was, therefore, hard to accept that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had asked Indonesia to stop the boat before it could reach Australian waters.
“If you had no home to go to, if you had no county to live in … what would you do?” Alex says.
“We’re not animals, we’re not dogs, we’re not stray dogs. We’re just people without a country to live in.”
The Tamils did threaten to blow themselves up if forced ashore but Alex now says the threat was made when they feared they would be sent back to Sri Lanka.
They have now backed down on the threat and surrendered their gas canisters and diesel fuel to the navy.
“We did not come this far to die. We came this far to live, to find a life,” he says.
The navy is trying to coax the Sri Lankans off the boat without violence. Authorities intend to send them to a detention facility in Sumatra if and when they do finally step ashore.
KEVIN RUDD dismissed attacks from the Opposition over the number of asylum seekers reaching Australian waters by saying yesterday that the Government’s policy struck a balance between the hardline and the humane.
“The key thing is to have a tough, hard-nosed approach to border security, dealing with the vile species who are represented by smugglers on the one hand and a humane approach to our international obligations on the other,” he said.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the Government expected the steady flow of boats to continue but ruled out reactivating the mothballed detention centre at Baxter, in South Australia.
The Christmas Island detention centre, which is near to capacity, will be expanded to accommodate 200 more people in demountable housing from Alice Springs. The demountables were once earmarked for Aboriginal housing but had not been used, the Government said.
Mr Rudd’s request to Indonesia at the weekend for help in turning around a boat carrying 260 Sri Lankans has reignited the domestic political battles of 2001 when asylum seekers dominated federal politics.
Yesterday he said people smugglers “represent the vilest form of people on the planet” and that he would call again on the co-operation of the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, if necessary.