Monday, October 19, 2009

S.Lanka asylum seekers end boat hunger strike

A group of more than 250 Sri Lankan asylum seekers whose boat was stopped in Indonesian waters en route to Australia ended their two-day hunger strike on Saturday, officials said.

The group -- among which it was the 150 men who were on hunger strike -- had accepted food late afternoon after a meeting with Indonesian officials, local immigration chief Harry Purwanto told AFP.

"They have started to eat and drink. Alex said the group apologised for launching the hunger strike. He said it was a wrong move," he said, referring to the group's unofficial spokesman.

"Alex also said the hunger strike was not a protest against Indonesia but an appeal to the international community to find a solution for them," he added.

Indonesian authorities were trying to negotiate with the migrants, who were intercepted in the Sunda Strait between Sumatra and Java islands on October 11 as they headed to Australia in a wooden cargo boat.

Purwanto said two shelters around the port have been readied for the 255 men, women and children "but the migrants wouldn't move there (from their boat) until they meet someone from UNHCR", referring to the UN refugee agency.

That will be on Wednesday, the official said.

"Today we'll stop the hunger strike but we'll continue to stay on the boat," Alex told reporters.

Earlier, Alex told AFP they were ending the hunger strike because "there were 100,000 deaths of Tamils due to the civil war in Sri Lanka and we want to prevent further deaths".

The estimated 150 men had refused food since Thursday and at least two had been taken to hospital apparently suffering dehydration, officials said.

The stand-off has fuelled Australia's debate about illegal immigration, with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd under mounting pressure from the conservative opposition to stiffen border security.

Alex has told reporters the asylum seekers are in danger in Sri Lanka in the wake of the government's defeat of Tamil Tiger rebels, although he denies they are rebel separatists.

The situation has also highlighted Indonesia's failure to crack down on people-smuggling networks that use the country's permissive legal environment to profit from the desperation of some migrants.


Related Links:
Tamils flee genocide — refugees should be welcomed!- Green Left Weekly
UN warns Australia against off-shore detention - Radio Australia

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