Once-blocked refugee starts life in Australia

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16 Jan 2019

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)


A Sri Lankan refugee who was involved in a six-month long standoff with Indonesian authorities in 2009 has finally arrived in Australia.



Nimal’s arrival comes four years after he staged the protest that caused the federal government worldwide embarrassment.


Abby Dinham has this report.


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“I feel very excited that I got my resettlement. I have waited very long time to come to Australia to come to a place where I can live.”


In 2009 Nimal was one of 254 Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka heading to Australia by boat, when – on the orders of then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – the boat was intercepted by Indonesian authorities and taken to the port of Merak on West Java.


But the group refused to disembark.


“It was a really important part of our journey because we were rejecting the delay of the resettlement some people were waiting very long time. That’s the reason we rejected to come off the boat and requested the government to come to Australia.”


The Sri Lankans spent the next six and a half months either on board or living in tents on the shore, all the while demanding to be taken to Australia.


During this period one asylum seeker died, dozens escaped and the ordeal proved to be a major embarrassment for Australian authorities who seemingly refused to take any responsibility for the group.


Nimal was eventually taken Indonesia’s Tanjung Pinang detention centre.


He was processed, declared a refugee and released 11 months after he was first detained.


For the past three years he has been living in limbo in Medan – Sumatra, unable to work, waiting for a visa to finally come to Australia and start his new life.


“It’s really disappointing because I didn’t have to wait so long because I was accepted as a refugee by the UNHCR. Actually the UNHCR found out I was a genuine refugee but I had to wait very long for my visa to be processed so that really make me disappointed.”


Nimal says the group’s basic needs are being taken of by the International Organisation for Migration but that they are not allowed to find work.


“I couldn’t get access to work or study, so we just have to wait without any activities so it’s not really a good time for me and the others who are waiting.”


Nimal says the situation is particularly stressful on the children.


“They don’t have access to go to school so no education for the children in Indonesia. It’s child abuse in my opinion.”


Nimal is planning on starting his new life in the regional Victorian town of Mildura.


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