In June, 27-year-old Sujatha, who was seven months’ pregnant, and her five-year-old daughter Ammu, set out on a nerve-racking journey from India on a boat to Australia. They boarded the boat with 42 other Tamils from Sri Lanka. There was no guarantee that they would make it to the land of their dreams. However, they were lucky and are still alive – not in Australia, though, but in Indonesia’s Aceh region. The boat, with 44 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, was stranded off the coast of Aceh as its engine broke down. They were allowed to disembark at Aceh.
Most of these bedraggled people were from the Bhavanisagar refugee camp in Erode district of Tamil Nadu.
Who are these refugees? The two-decade long civil strife in Sri Lanka in seventies had led to the exodus of Tamils from the country. Though it has ended with the death of Tamil Tigers leader V Prabhakaran in May 2009, the refugees haven’t returned.
SC Chandrahasan, founder of Organisation for Eelam Refugees Rehabilitation (OfERR), a non-profit organisation run by and for refugees since 1984, says that originally around 100 people were to leave on this boat, which dropped people in Ache. On that fateful day only 44 could make it while the rest – who were travelling in another bus to reach the coast – were stopped at a police checkpoint. Because of this the boat was not overcrowded. The agents, who had arranged their journey, had provided them food as well.
At present, Sujatha, her daughter and others remain stranded in a faraway land in the temporary shelter. Though authorities are providing them food, they continue to face uncertainty.
The refugees are not keen to settle in Indonesia, and Australia has refused to accept them as asylum seekers. Even the Indian government might not take them back, says Chandrahasan. The refugees are not willing to return to Sri Lanka and even if they agree, who would take care of the logistics and other expenses, he says.
Article Compiled By: Satya Satvika, Intern- HRDI