“Australian government should act to end this suffering now” – “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung at 10 March demonstration
150 days on a cramped, squalid boat. That is the ordeal faced by 254 refugees from Sri Lanka stranded in the Javanese port of Merak. The Merak refugees have become a political football between the political leaders of Australia and Indonesia, who were also meeting on 10 March, as rights campaigners staged protests around the world to demand speedy action to restore the basic right to asylum to the refugees.
Protesters in Hong Kong, led by well-known socialist and pro-democracy activist “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, took up the Merak refugees’ case at the Australian Consulate in Wan Chai. When a police escort mysteriously arrived at the protesters’ unannounced meeting point, it was decided to start the protest action early and march all the way through the busy overhead walkways of Wan Chai to the Consulate housed on the 23rd floor of the Harbour Centre.
“Australia, Indonesia, defend the right of asylum!” chanted the protesters, and “human rights have no borders – refugees have human rights too!”
The protest, which included people from Hong Kong’s Cantonese, Indonesian and Western communities, called upon Australia’s Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Indonesia’s president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who met in Canberra today, to give guarantees to the Merak refugees that their cases will be properly processed, with Australia agreeing to receive those who are accorded refugee status. “Unfortunately, the tactic of the Australian and Indonesian governments so far seems aimed at starving the refugees off the boat, which they refuse to leave because they are understandably afraid they will be sent back to Sri Lanka,” one of the protesters told chinaworker.info.
On the steps of the Consulate building a statement was read out from the Tamil Solidarity campaign. A member of consular staff came out to receive a letter to Kevin Rudd from “Long Hair” on behalf of the campaign. A giant-sized calendar marked with 150 red crosses, representing the Merak refugees’ 150 days of hell, was also given to the consular representative. “We would like you to take this and present it to your government,” said “Long Hair”, “to remind them of what these people are going through and how they have suffered.”
The Hong Kong protest also drew attention to China’s decisive role as the main arms supplier and aid donor for the “war criminal” Rajapakse government in Sri Lanka. This included six Chinese fighter jets that were given free of charge to the Sri Lankan military and played a key role in the defeat of the Tamil Tiger guerrilla forces. The Merak refugees are fleeing the terror unleashed by Rajapakse upon the Tamil areas of the country. China has been the main military supplier for the Colombo government since the 1990s, but its support has escalated dramatically since 2007, when a deal was struck giving Beijing the go ahead to build and use the strategically crucial port at Hambantota on Sri Lanka’s south coast. The Times (London) commented that Rajapakse’s military victory last year “owes much to a badly needed injection of arms and aid from China, as well as robust Chinese support at the United Nations.”