Indonesia To Force Sri Lankan Off Boat

Indonesia to force Sri Lankans off boat

The Age
January 15, 2010

INDONESIA will send up to 500 police and militia members to force Sri Lankan asylum seekers off a boat in Merak, separating their spokesman “Alex” from the group.

For more than three months, 240 Sri Lankans have tested the patience of officials, by refusing to get off the wooden boat into immigration detention in Indonesia.

“The status quo situation can no longer be tolerated,” said Harry Purwanto, the head of Banten Immigration Office. “Therefore law enforcement must be applied.”

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd intervened to have the boat stopped in that country's waters under Opposition fire for losing control of the nation's borders.

“We've been patience for months and it is very normal that there should be a limit to the situation,” Mr Purwanto said yesterday. “We cannot spend our time and thoughts and energy only for a group of foreigners who illegally enter our sovereign country. We have obligation to also provide service to our own people.”

Police and military numbers would be increased to combat any resistance, he said.

“We have to double our men, compared to their number of 240 people. I'm sure that 500 personnel of police and military will be deployed,” he said.

Asylum seekers would be taken into one of three holding centres, the Australian-funded detention centre at Tanjung Pinang, a warehouse in Bekasi or an old villa in Anyer. Families would stay together and singles would be grouped.

“I think we will separate Alex from the others,” he said. Sanjeev “Alex” Kuhendrarajah was the spokesman for those on board as they demanded a resettlement deal similar to those rescued by customs ship Oceanic Viking.

However, the Australian Government said it would only resettle its share of the group as dictated by normal UNHCR processes.

Barely a hundred beds remain for asylum seekers at Christmas Island as the Australia's people smuggling ambassador prepares for talks in Indonesia.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said planning was under way for Peter Woolcott's trip to Jakarta as the Government sought to reduce the flow of people sailing to Australia.

Yesterday, Australia's detention centre on Christmas Island was full, with 237 people sleeping in tents counted among the 1406 men accommodated in the high security centre.

Including other housing options for women, children and families, there are now 1712 asylum seekers – and 11 crew who navigated the journey – detained on the small territory in the Indian Ocean. The island can cope with 1832, a spokesman for the immigration department said.

The Government has said development would boost capacity to 2200 by “early 2010” and the Darwin detention centre would deal with an overflow.

A decision on where to take the group will be made today (FRIDAY), Mr Purwanto said.