Indonesia asks for help with stranded Tamils, admitting 'their boat can't be fixed'


Indonesia has asked its Sri Lankan and Indian embassies to verify 43 citizens on board a boat beached in Aceh for more than 10 days and provide travel documents so they can return home.

The Sri Lankan Tamils, who have been sheltering under makeshift tents on the beach at Lhoknga in the northern province of Aceh for three days, were also finally granted access to representatives from the International Organisation for Migration and the UN refugee agency.

Sri Lankans on the beach at Aceh Besar Photo: Fadly

Heru Santoso, a spokesman for Indonesia's immigration directorate general, conceded there was only a small chance of their boat being towed back into international waters because "their boat can't be fixed anymore".

Sri Lankans interviewed by Fairfax Media had earlier vowed they would continue to Australia if Indonesian authorities escorted their boat back into international waters, as had previously been planned.

The Indonesian government initially refused to allow the Tamils to disembark from their boat because they did not have passports or travel documents.

Sri Lankans on the beach at Aceh Besar Photo: Fadly

However the Geutanyoe Foundation, an Aceh-based humanitarian organisation, said many of the Sri Lankans were in possession of refugee identity cards issued by the government of Tamil Nadu, one of the 29 states of India.

The government had notified the embassies of India and Sri Lanka requesting they verify their citizens and issue travel documents accordingly.

"The regulation is that they have to be returned to their country but if they are refugees they will be sheltered here," Mr Heru said.

Sri Lankans marooned in Aceh, Indonesia. Photo: Fadly

The Embassy of Sri Lanka in Jakarta said the Sri Lankan government was strongly committed to the policy of voluntary return of Sri Lankan refugees.

"The government of Sri Lanka wishes to reiterate that this policy is firmly in place and would be applicable to persons whose Sri Lankan nationality can be established under respective laws and regulations," it said in a statement.

More than 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu after fleeing the protracted civil war that ended seven years ago.

A Sri Lankan child in Aceh. Photo: Fadly

"Until we do, we won't be able to assess their protection needs, if there are any."

Mr Vargas said conditions on the beach were windy and it had been difficult to ascertain much information other than that most of the Sri Lankans seemed to be ok.

"There were a few people with medical problems but the government ensured they would be looked after," he said.

The Sri Lankans' boat was now aground on the beach and listing heavily, which some Acehnese suggested was a sign that "Alam belum mengizinkan kapal ditarik ke laut" (Mother Nature has not granted permission for the boat to be pushed back to sea).

International Organisation for Migration Jakarta spokesman Paul Dillon said the IOM had been invited to assist the Tamils. "IOM medical psycho-social staff are rendering aid where it is needed and conducting assessments about what their needs are likely to be in the days and weeks to come," he said.

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