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Tamils reject deal to disembark

[ABC, Thursday, 12 November 2009 09:57 No Comment]

r467503_2324189 Seventy-eight Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers onboard an Australian Customs ship are still refusing to disembark in Indonesia, despite a Federal Government settlement deal announced today.

The stalemate is in its fourth week and the Government has offered to resettle the group within 12 weeks if they voluntarily leave the ship for processing in Indonesia.

About 30 of the 78 Sri Lankans have already been found to be refugees and they have been told that if they go ashore they will be resettled within six weeks.

The rest of the 78 will be processed within 12 weeks if they are also given refugee status.

It is likely they would end up in Australia, with no third country committing to taking them yet.

If they were accepted in Australia, the group would receive English lessons, accommodation assistance, medical treatment and help finding jobs.

But it is an offer that has so far been refused. The Sri Lankans say they do not want to be held in an Indonesian detention centre and they are refusing to leave the Oceanic Viking.

Federal Opposition Leader Malcolm Turnbull has condemned the offer, saying it is weak and sends the wrong signal to people smugglers.

But Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Foreign Minister Stephen Smith say the Government will continue to work with Indonesia to resolve the stalemate.

Offer of help

The Australian Tamil Congress says that if the Government guarantees Australian resettlement, it will go on the ship to help end the stand-off.

The Congress’ Sara Nathan says she wants the Sri Lankans to accept the deal if they are guaranteed Australian resettlement and she has told the Government her organisation is willing to convince them to do that.

"If the deal is that they are guaranteed to come to Australia if they’re genuine refugees, that sounds like a very good deal and I would urge the people to take it," she said.

"And once we have the details of the deal and we are confident that it is in the best interest of everybody concerned, we are happy to be a liaison point and talk to the people.

"If the Australian Government would invite us to do so we are very happy to take that on."

Ms Nathan says she thinks speaking to someone from the Tamil Congress may calm and reassure the asylum seekers.

"I can imagine they’ll be all stressed because for the last three to four weeks they haven’t had any external contact, they haven’t been able to speak to anybody in their own language and to understand that some people actually care for their benefit," she said.

"If we are able to talk to them directly it would make a lot of difference, especially for people who have been cooped up in a ship for three weeks.

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