THE group of Tamil migrants from Sri Lanka who were stranded off the coast of Indonesia’s Aceh province have been given a brief respite after authorities allowed to come ashore following a week-long confinement on a vessel.
Rights groups have criticized Indonesia’s treatment of the 44 men, women and children and the Aceh provincial government’s plan to tow them out to sea.
The migrants are now being sheltered in tents after being allowed off their boat Saturday.
But Ahmad Samadan, chief of the local immigration office, said authorities still plan to tow the migrants into international waters once further repairs to the vessel are completed.
The group was trying to reach the Australian territory of Christmas Island when their boat’s engine malfunctioned off the coast of Indonesia’s Sumatra island.
The province had earlier 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.
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.
Additional reporting by Associated Press