Asia Pacific keywords:
Free the Tamil refugees
'WE WILL not remain silent while Tamil refugees suffer out of the sight of the world's media'. That was the message to the Australian High Commission in London on Wednesday 10 March.
Manny Thain, Tamil Solidarity national secretary
That date marked the 150th day that 254 Tamils have spent on board a boat in Merak harbour, Indonesia.
That is, five months in cramped conditions with access to only one toilet, lacking adequate supplies of drinking water, food and medical facilities. One woman is due to give birth soon. Outbreaks of skin diseases have infected the children.
The protest was called by Tamil Solidarity, and was supported by other Tamil groups, including the British Tamils Forum.
It was part of a worldwide day of action which included Tamil rights campaigns, and trade union, socialist and human rights groups from Indonesia, Malaysia, India, Australia and New Zealand. Coordinated protests took place in all these countries, as well as in Hong Kong, several European states and North America.
We hand delivered a letter to the High Commission which urged immediate action to alleviate the suffering of the refugees, and called on the Australian government to grant them asylum.
The refugees were attempting to sail to Australia having fled the aftermath of the Sri Lankan army's offensive in the first half of 2009. In those final months of the war between the Sri Lankan regime and Tamil Tiger fighters, over 20,000 Tamil-speaking people were massacred. Subsequently, hundreds of thousands were rounded up and held in open prison camps under armed guard.
Today, thousands are still held in 'secret' camps, while the Tamil-speaking people who have been released are left to return to shattered villages and wrecked homes. Schools and hospitals, small businesses, fishing boats and land have been destroyed.
It was from that situation that these refugees fled, to try to salvage some kind of future for their children. But the Australian and Indonesian governments did a deal and the boat was intercepted by the Indonesian navy and taken to Merak.
Ever since, the people on board have been in limbo, with no rights and no status. Provisions are delivered sporadically and inadequately by the navy.
The only access to supplementary aid, legal advice and solidarity has been through the courageous efforts of trade union-based and humanitarian campaigns in Indonesia, supported by groups in Australia and Malaysia.
Tamil Solidarity has been an integral part of this campaigning work and has highlighted this case internationally.
We will continue to do all we can to highlight this gross injustice - and to fight for the rights of Tamil-speaking people, and for all workers and oppressed people in Sri Lanka.