Indonesia draws up plan to force Sri Lankans home
Sydney Morning Herald
November 16, 2009
JAKARTA: Indonesia is planning to deport Sri Lankan asylum seekers at Merak, including ''Alex'', the English-speaking spokesman for the group that has spent more than a month at the Javanese port refusing to leave their vessel.
A senior Government source said Indonesia was losing patience with the asylum-seekers and they must leave. If necessary it was prepared to force many of the 255 Sri Lankans on to a navy warship to return them to the country they fled amid claims of persecution by the Sinhalese-dominated Government.
The deportation plan marks a significant hardening in Indonesia's policy towards irregular immigrants, and undermines the so-called ''Indonesia solution'' and Australia's hopes to negotiate a framework where both countries agree on a method of intercepting and processing boat people.
''They have to be sent back to their country,'' said Brigadier General Bachtiar Tambunan, the director of transnational crime with Indonesia's police.
Gatot Subroto, head of the law enforcement unit at the Immigration Department, said ''[Indonesia's Department of Foreign Affairs] was ''working on deporting them''.
It is understood the negotiations with Sri Lanka's embassy involve the forced repatriation of about 130 asylum-seekers in Merak who do not carry proof from the United Nations that they are genuine refugees.
Those already considered refugees would likely be resettled, and Indonesia has been pressuring Australia to take many of them.
But the remainder will be thrown in detention and are unlikely to be granted access to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Instead, they will be processed by Indonesia and then sent home.
Among those in the sights of Indonesian authorities is ''Alex'', the bearded spokesman who later revealed he spent most of his life in Canada, became a gang member there and was deported after serving a prison term.
Sri Lanka has accused Alex – whose real name is Sanjeev Kuhendrarajah – of being a people smuggler, an accusation he vehemently denies but one Indonesian authorities are taking seriously.
The saga at Merak, which pre-dates the stand-off on the Oceanic Viking taking place further north, was triggered when Kevin Rudd phoned the Indonesian President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, pleading for the boat to be intercepted before it reached Australia.
Ever since, the Sri Lankans have refused to disembark, at first threatening to blow the boat up, then insisting on being taken to Australia, before modifying their demands to have access to the UNHCR.
According to a briefing from a senior Government source familiar with the negotiations with Sri Lanka, Indonesia was losing patience.
''Some of them cannot be accepted here, we want to deport them back to their country. We are still negotiating it. They have entered our country illegally. They have no rights to stay here. We must repatriate them,'' he said. ''We are prepared to use our navy to take them back to Sri Lanka, although that's the worst case scenario.''