Govt Moves to ‘Solve’ Migrant Stand-off

MERAK

THE government moved this week to end a six-month stand-off with scores of Sri Lankan migrants who have refused to leave a rickety boat after they were intercepted trying to reach Australia.

Foreign Ministry official Sujatmiko said the 205 migrants camped at the port of Merak, Java island, since October were being interviewed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

He said that in the coming days they would be flown to a “specific place,” believed to be a migrant detention facility on Galang island, near Singapore.

“Today the Indonesian government will solve this migrant issue,” Sujatmiko told reporters in Merak on Wednesday.

“They can’t stay here because it’s private property and it’s not a proper place for them,” he said, adding: “We are not forcibly removing them.”

Most of the Sri Lankans – many of whom have been living in tents at the port in recent months – appeared happy to have the chance to meet UNHCR officials, witnesses said.

The migrants have said they are fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka following the end of a civil war pitting ethnic Tamils against majority Sinhalese.

The stand-off, along with a similar situation last year involving an Australian customs vessel off Indonesia’s Bintan island to the north, has fuelled an intense political debate in Australia over refugee policy.

Last year saw a dramatic rise in asylum seeker arrivals in Australia’s remote north, backed by Indonesia-based people-smugglers.

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