Banda Aceh On 13 June, the Geutanyoe Foundation’s humanitarian team conducted a preliminary assessment mission to the boat carrying around 40 ethnic Tamil men, women and children from Sri Lanka that has been stranded for several days off the coast of Lhoknga, Aceh Besar district, en route to Australia to seek asylum. The group, which appears to be fleeing from the deteriorating security situation in Sri Lanka, includes many women and children.
At the time the Geutanyoe Foundation’s assessment was conducted, the boat was located approximately 2 km from the shore, and the boat was stationary. Our team was only able to approach within 5 metres of the boat and was not allowed board the boat by the authorities. From our assessment the group consists of largely women, including one pregnant woman, and around 7 children, including at least one infant.
On Sunday 12 June it had been reported by authorities that the passengers had been given fuel and assistance to have their engine fixed, that they were in good health, had sufficient food supplies and wished to continue on their journey to their country of destination. We thank the authorities for their swift assistance to the group, including for facilitating a medical examination by government health officers. However, the fact that they have still not left Aceh’s waters indicates that the group may indeed wish to temporarily disembark in Aceh and there are urgent needs that remain to be addressed.
At the time of our assessment, the group had not yet had access to meet with UNHCR, who were on their way to Banda Aceh. We strongly urge the Government of Indonesia to immediately grant full and unhindered access to UNHCR to process any asylum claims of the group as well as to humanitarian organisations who can help to identify and address any protection needs the group may have.
We wish to remind the Government of Indonesia and all stakeholders that the right to seek asylum is a fundamental right that all human beings are entitled to, as stated in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Further, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child to which Indonesia is signatory, provides that States should ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who has been determined to be a refugee shall receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance. In addition, children who are seeking asylum or who have been granted refugee status are entitled to full enjoyment of their rights under the Convention, such as not to be discriminated against, to be treated with humanity and respect, to have their voices heard and for the best interests of the child principle to apply. To this end, it is critical that Indonesia provide leadership on upholding these rights and that Indonesia continues to cooperate fully with the international community in doing so.
As part of our efforts to support the Government of Indonesia in finding a humanitarian approach to address this situation, on 13 June the Geutanyoe Foundation sent a letter to the President of Indonesia appealing for the protection of the Tamil asylum seekers, with the following recommendations:
The Government should allow the Tamil boat journey survivors to restore their physical and mental health in Aceh first, considering the impact that their sea journey has had on them and the high number of women and children on the boat.
The Government should allow the survivors to be interviewed by the UNHCR. The Government has demonstrated excellent cooperation with UNHCR in the handling of asylum-seekers in previous years, including in the processing of Rohingya asylum-seekers and refugees last year, and this should continue.
The Government should build on the positive experience of managing Rohingya refugees over the past year in its reception, temporary protection and management of ethnic Tamil asylum-seekers.
The Government, as Co-Chair of the Bali Process, should use this situation as an opportunity to implement its stated commitment to ensure that the Bali Process addressing humanitarian and protection needs in managing irregular migration, including with regards to refugees and asylum seekers, as stated in the Co-Chairs’ statement of the 6th Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process in Bali in March 2016.
The Government should finalise the Draft Presidential Decree on the Handling of Foreign Asylum Seekers and Refugees, as mandated in Article 27 of Law No. 37 of 1999 on Foreign Relations. We believe that this endorsement can provide a significant impact on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees, even though our country has not signed the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees.
We believe that through the adoption of these recommendations, Indonesia can continue to be a model for the humane reception and treatment for asylum seekers and refugees at both regional and international levels.