Feature Article

UN Refugee agency ignorant of stranded Tamil refugees in Indonesia

[TamilNet, Monday, 16 October 2017, 07:15 GMT]
Eezham Tamil Refugees languishing for almost five years in the transit refugee camps in Medan, which is the capital of North Sumatra province in Indonesia, mobilized against the negligence by UNHCR and the local authorities last Thursday. They were demanding resettlement in a third country as promised to them by the UN body for refugees five years ago, when their boat en route to Australia was detained off the waters of Indonesia. The immigration authorities responded harshly with the arrest of 24-year-old Nathan Partheepan, one of the organisers of the agitation a few hours after the peaceful protest. Mr Partheepan is currently detained at a closed-door detention camp, where living conditions are appalling and medically hazardous. The organiser who talked to TamilNet before being transferred from the open camp, claimed he was among those recognised as refugees by the UNHCR.

Indonesia Tamil refugees

Indonesia Tamil refugees
Indonesia Tamil refugees
Indonesia Tamil refugees
Indonesia Tamil refugees
The incarcerated refugees in Medan were either fleeing persecution by the occupying military of genocidal Sri Lanka or the appalling conditions at the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, India.

The agitation was organized in one of the five open detention camps, as the refugees were desperate in bringing attention to their five-year long incarceration and the subsequent abandonment by the UNHCR.

Mr Partheepan revealed on Thursday that he had sent several letters stating his and fellow refugees’ plight to the UNHCR offices in New Zealand, Germany and Switzerland without receiving any official response.

Partheepan had even brought their pathetic situation to the attention of the UNHCR office in Germany through his sister who lives there. The German UNHCR office gave a verbal assurance to his sister that it would attend the needs of the refugees a month ago, he said.

The refugees have been requesting the UNHRC for resettlement in a third country and to ensure their security without sending them back to occupation and persecution at the hands of the occupying military of genocidal Sri Lanka.

“Despite the verbal assurance, nothing has come forth from the UNHCR or Geneva. We are denied the medical attention, which is essential for our survival. I want the world to know what is going on here in these camps. Our basic human rights remain violated by those proclaiming to defend our rights. We are denied from being sent to hospitals to receive medical treatment and away from the inhuman conditions prevailing here,” he said.

Five refugees are sick and the condition of three of them is critical, he further said.

Along with Partheepan, his 26-year-old elder brother Nathan Ratheepan and 28-year-old Asokarasa Ranjith, were in critical condition needing emergency medical attention.

The condition of Ratheepan is worsening by the hours, as his leg and feet were infected.

The videos taken by the refugees themselves document the appalling conditions at the closed detention camp, in which water has overflowed the ground of the entire building. There are no sanitary or medical facilities available for the detained, fellow refugees said on Sunday.

The pictures and videos documenting the condition of their detainment were a desperate plea for attention by the outside world, they said.

There are around 450 Tamil refugees, who are being kept in indefinite detention in more than five open refugee camps in Medan. In addition, there is a closed-door detention camp.

The protest on Thursday follows in the aftermath of the recent death of an Eezham Tamil woman refugee, 42-year-old Santhiya due to kidney failure in the same refugee detention camp in Medan.

Santhiya's death was caused by the condition of living in the camps, and the negligence and denial of medical attention, the refugees complain.

Her death has led fellow refugees to mobilize a peaceful struggle in a bid to bring attention of the world to their plight. They are particularly concerned of the ignorance by the UNHCR.

The indefinite detention has caused severe difficulties and trauma for the refugees as well as their families back home.

The humanitarian agencies working with refugees are based in Jakarta, which is too far away from Medan. Their services are mostly inaccessible for the Eezham Tamil refugees.

They have requested human rights and charitable organisations to provide them with necessary arrangements so that the medical attention they are in immediate need of can be delivered to them at the camps.

They also urged Tamil diaspora groups to exert pressure on the UN system, which seems to have abandoned them.

The video sent to media by the protesting refugees themselves is reproduced below.

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