Lankans in Indonesia protest

Dozens of Tamil asylum seekers who fled Sri Lanka staged a rally outside the office of the International Organization for Migration in Medan, North Sumatra, to demand that they be relocated to Australia.

The demonstrators, who have lived in Medan for almost two years, shouted slogans and brandished banners asking the IOM, the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the Indonesian government to work on getting them asylum status in Australia.

Savindar, the rally coordinator, said their goal was always to go to Australia and they never meant to end up in Indonesia. He said they were here now only because they were intercepted by the Navy while trying to sail to Australia from Malaysia in October 2009.

Savindar said the group of 250 people was arrested off the western coast of Java. After being held for seven months at Merak Port in Banten, they were taken to Tanjung Pinang in the Riau Islands before being moved to Medan a year later.

“We want to go to Australia, not here,” said Alexin, another asylum seeker.

“We knew from the beginning that Australia would accept us and give us jobs and provide security for us. We can have new lives and a future in that country.”

Half an hour into their rally, the demonstrators met with Yong Lai Kong, the IOM representative in Medan.

During the meeting, Yong explained that the IOM did not have the authority to decide on their legal status, adding that they should go to the UNHCR for that.

However, the asylum seekers said they were unsatisfied with the explanation and continued to demonstrate until mid-afternoon. They later dispersed, saying they would return if there was still no decision on sending them to Australia.

“We’ll wait. But we’ll be back if we don’t hear anything soon,” Savindar said. (Jakarta Globe)