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Indonesia seeks ‘deal’ on asylum seekers – SMH

[MISC, Tuesday, 29 December 2009 10:42 No Comment]

AAP

A special deal from the Australian government may be needed to lure almost 250 Sri Lankan asylum seekers off their boat, Indonesian officials say.

The plight of the Tamils – who have spent 11 weeks refusing to disembark from their boat moored off the Indonesian coast – has come under increasing scrutiny following the death of a 29-year-old asylum seeker on Christmas Eve.

Indonesian authorities have canvassed their options on how to end the deadlock and believe Australia’s help will be needed if an immediate solution cannot be found.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Teuku Faizasyah said Indonesia would consider asking Australia to make a special deal, like that offered to those aboard the Oceanic Viking in November.

"It would be good if there was some kind of arrangement made," he told AAP on Tuesday.

"We ask the Australian (government) to get some attention on the issue.

"Both cases happened almost at the same time, so we cannot just give too much attention on one case and neglecting the other."

The Australian government promised swift processing times and quick resettlement to Australia in a bid to entice 78 Tamils from the Oceanic Viking, ending a four-week impasse.

All 78 were eventually found to be genuine refugees.

Two are already in the country and another large group are expected to arrive on Wednesday.

But those near the Indonesian port of Merak, whose interception pre-dates that of those aboard the Oceanic Viking, have not been so lucky, with the Australian government refusing to get involved.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor reiterated Australia would not be giving the Merak boat people any special consideration.

"This matter is something that has to be undertaken and dealt with by the Indonesian authorities," he told reporters in Melbourne.

"We’ve made clear all along this was a vessel intercepted that left Malaysia, and was intercepted by an Indonesian vessel.

"It is incumbent now upon those passengers to disembark that vessel so that the (UN refugee agency) UNHCR can properly process their claims."

The Tamils have accused the Indonesian authorities of escalating threats and violence in a bid to "scare" them off the boat.

They allege the death of George Jacob Samuel Christin from a suspected stomach infection was the result of delayed medical help – a claim denied by Mr Faizasyah.

It was the asylum seekers themselves who prevented the authorities from boarding the boat, he said.

Refugee advocates held a protest in Jakarta on Monday, appealing for Australia to intervene, saying the Indonesians were no longer equipped to handle the situation.

But Mr Faizasyah maintained Indonesia didn’t need help until it asked for it.

"We’re still capable of handling the situation with the assistance of the (immigration body) IOM.

"The options we discussed – we are talking about the future."

Officials have not ruled out using force to remove the Tamils from the boat.

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