Stand-off refugees can't choose destination, says Australia
SYDNEY: Australia told a group of rescued Sri Lankan asylum-seekers they could not choose their destination and refused to rule out using force after they refused to disembark in Indonesia.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith insisted the group of 78, currently on an Australian ship, would be processed in Indonesia under a new agreement between the countries and urged patience despite an embarrassing 11-day time-lag.
"When someone is rescued on the high seas in the Indonesian search and rescue area, and Indonesia and Australia agree where they should be offloaded, it's not a matter of the choice of the asylum seekers on board where they make that claim," he told public broadcaster ABC late on Wednesday.
"The agreement between Australia and Indonesia is an agreement that they will be processed in Indonesia. We remain confident that if we're patient, that we can effect that in accordance with the agreement made between President (Susilo Bambang) Yudhoyono and the prime minister."
The stand-off has raised questions about Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's "Indonesian Solution" to the asylum-seeker problem brokered with Yudhoyono after more than 30 rickety boats were stopped off Australia this year.
The 78 Sri Lankans were intercepted by Australia's navy on October 18 and transferred to an Australian customs ship after getting into trouble in Indonesian waters.
Smith has played down reports the boat carrying the Sri Lankans, who come from the country's war-ravaged north, was deliberately sabotaged to force the rescue.
The 78 refugees from Sri Lanka has posed a major problem to the Australian Government. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has become the laughing stock of the opposition parties. Also, presently, his "Indonesian Solution" does not seem to be working.
On the other hand, refugees cannot select the country they would land and live on. It is definitely up to the would be host country to decide on this matter. Indonesia is a great country, with so many islands and one can be sure one of these islands can be given to these refugees and the future ones.
Perhaps, it can be a new beginning for Eelam - to be established on an Island in Indonesia. Eelam's own little island nation.