AUTHORITIES in the semi-autonomous Indonesian province of Aceh are preparing to tow a boat with more than 40 Sri Lankan men, women and children out to sea after refusing to allow them into the country.
It will be the second time in the past week that officials have attempted to remove the vessel from Indonesian waters after it suffered engine trouble and was discovered stranded on Saturday.
Aceh police chief Maj. Gen. Husein Hamidi said Friday the migrants had been given food, water and fuel, and the engine has been repaired.
The province refused to let the migrants land despite Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla asking them to provide shelter.
On Thursday, six women tried to leave the boat as it rested in shallow waters, but police fired warning shots.
Amnesty International on Wednesday urged the Indonesian government to allow the refugees to meet UN Refugee Agency officials.
Josef Benedict, Amnesty International Campaigns Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said they should be allowed to disembark and meet UNHCR officials.
Aceh fishermen discovered the boat off the coast on June 11 and subsequently reported it to the Indonesian navy, who prevented the boat from disembarking and its occupants applying for asylum, arguing that they lack proper documentation.
According to Amnesty, the ethnic Tamils’ face the threat of being forced back into international waters and authorities are still preventing UNHCR officials from interviewing them to establish the veracity of their claims and identity.
The group set out from India, more than 1,000 miles away, on a boat bearing an Indian flag. They’d been travelling for 20 days, headed for Australia, when, near the coast of Aceh, bad weather left the vessel stranded off Lhoknga.
Those on board have reportedly fled Sri Lanka, where the members of the Tamil minority have suffered persecution. Despite recent improvements, there are still concerns about discriminatory practices against Tamils by law-enforcement officials.
Additional reporting by Associated Press