MERAK: Sri Lankan asylum seekers, thwarted from reaching Australia,called a snap hunger strike late yesterday, erecting banners on theboat they have refused to leave for five days, proclaiming the actionwas for “international community help”.The escalation in tensionat the dock in Merak where the boat is moored exasperated Indonesianofficials and raised concerns the stand-off could linger embarrassinglyuntil Kevin Rudd arrives in Indonesia on Monday night for theinauguration of Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as president the next day.ThePrime Minister intervened to ensure Indonesian authorities stopped theboat reaching Australian waters by calling Dr Yudhoyono.Theimpromptu hunger strike – the 253 asylum seekers have been receivingcopious amounts of food and water since their arrival at the port onSunday – came just as Indonesian authorities felt they were makingheadway in the saga. A delegation of the Sri Lankans – who are Tamilsfleeing what they describe as genocide in their homeland – had agreedto examine accommodation options in Merak.But the spokesman forthe group, “Alex”, among others, became highly agitated when told theaccommodation would initially be only for a handful of the asylumseekers, specifically some women who were judged to be in poor health.A growing pack of Indonesian media at the docks, who surged at the delegation, seems to have exacerbated the drama.”Theydemand too much,” said one Indonesian naval officer, who has beendealing with the asylum seekers since their arrival and was initiallysympathetic to their plight. “Why are they so sensationalist?”The naval officer, who asked not to be named, said the asylum seekers were now divided, withsome wanting to continue to refuse to disembark from their wooden vessel, and others wanting to come ashore.Earlier,the Sri Lankans had made an emotional stand. They had refused to leavetheir boat for five days. And they were being allowed to tell theirstory to the world, a rare opportunity for boat people, usually keptwell way from the public gaze.”Have a look at this picture yousee today and ask yourself one question,” said Alex, gesturing to themedia and the bedraggled Tamils behind him, many staring inbewilderment.”If you had no place, if you had no country ofyour own, what would you do? And how long would you stay in a boatbefore you were able to enter a country that will give you asylum?”Hisdistress was palpable. Alex, an English teacher from Jaffna who hadleft behind his pregnant wife, choked on his words. “We are notanimals. We are not dogs. We are not stray dogs. We are people withouta country to live in.”A young girl, Brindha, then spoke, cryingas she told of a month in the jungle in Malaysia waiting for peoplesmugglers to arrive with their boat.”We are your children.Please think of us. Please. Please take us to your country. It’s OK ifit’s not to Australia. It is better if any other country takes us.”It was powerful, raw and defiant. But their stand will be futile. Thehopes of the asylum seekers to touch a sympathetic national leader orprovoke an outpouring of public support in a faraway land aremisplaced.In Australia their plight is leading to calls fordifferent immigration laws, not a groundswell of opinion to let in morerefugees. And so far no consular official from any country has visitedthem, five days after being picked up in the Sunda Strait. If theboat’s engine had not malfunctioned, they probably would have made itto Australia where they would have been processed in months.Insteadthey can expect the same treatment as thousands of others caught inIndonesia. It may be better than the bloody civil strife of Sri Lankabut it will be years before they will be offered residency in anothercountry.”We are completely aware of that. That is whywe are refusing to get off this ship,” said Alex. Asked later if it wasfair to jump the queue ahead of other refugees who had been waitingmuch longer, Alex said: “I know it’s unfair. It’s very unfair. But thewhole situation is so unfair, having no country of your own.”The statistics show why asylum seekers are prepared to do almostanything to find a better place. There are 16million recognisedrefugees worldwide and another 26million internally displaced people,according to the UNHCR. Fewer than 70,000 can be resettled in any givenyear.It is a long queue, as Ali Rezzae, an Afghan asylumseeker waiting in the Indonesian city of Bogor, can attest. He has foodand shelter but little else. Indonesia will not allow him to work orstudy, let alone stay permanently.”I’ve been since here 2005,”said Rezzae, a Hazara from Oruzgan, where Australian troops arefighting the Taliban, who detest the Hazara. “I can’t get out of here.I can’t go back.’some wanting to continue to refuse to disembark from their wooden vessel, and others wanting to come ashore.Earlier,the Sri Lankans had made an emotional stand. They had refused to leavetheir boat for five days. And they were being allowed to tell theirstory to the world, a rare opportunity for boat people, usually keptwell way from the public gaze.”Have a look at this picture yousee today and ask yourself one question,” said Alex, gesturing to themedia and the bedraggled Tamils behind him, many staring inbewilderment.”If you had no place, if you had no country ofyour own, what would you do? And how long would you stay in a boatbefore you were able to enter a country that will give you asylum?”Hisdistress was palpable. Alex, an English teacher from Jaffna who hadleft behind his pregnant wife, choked on his words. “We are notanimals. We are not dogs. We are not stray dogs. We are people withouta country to live in.”A young girl, Brindha, then spoke, cryingas she told of a month in the jungle in Malaysia waiting for peoplesmugglers to arrive with their boat.”We are your children.Please think of us. Please. Please take us to your country. It’s OK ifit’s not to Australia. It is better if any other country takes us.”It was powerful, raw and defiant. But their stand will be futile. Thehopes of the asylum seekers to touch a sympathetic national leader orprovoke an outpouring of public support in a faraway land aremisplaced.In Australia their plight is leading to calls fordifferent immigration laws, not a groundswell of opinion to let in morerefugees. And so far no consular official from any country has visitedthem, five days after being picked up in the Sunda Strait. If theboat’s engine had not malfunctioned, they probably would have made itto Australia where they would have been processed in months.Insteadthey can expect the same treatment as thousands of others caught inIndonesia. It may be better than the bloody civil strife of Sri Lankabut it will be years before they will be offered residency in anothercountry.”We are completely aware of that. That is whywe are refusing to get off this ship,” said Alex. Asked later if it wasfair to jump the queue ahead of other refugees who had been waitingmuch longer, Alex said: “I know it’s unfair. It’s very unfair. But thewhole situation is so unfair, having no country of your own.”The statistics show why asylum seekers are prepared to do almostanything to find a better place. There are 16million recognisedrefugees worldwide and another 26million internally displaced people,according to the UNHCR. Fewer than 70,000 can be resettled in any givenyear.It is a long queue, as Ali Rezzae, an Afghan asylumseeker waiting in the Indonesian city of Bogor, can attest. He has foodand shelter but little else. Indonesia will not allow him to work orstudy, let alone stay permanently.”I’ve been since here 2005,”said Rezzae, a Hazara from Oruzgan, where Australian troops arefighting the Taliban, who detest the Hazara. “I can’t get out of here.I can’t go back.”‘
Nanjing Night Net

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