Possible end to asylum standoff

The Oceanic Viking asylum seeker stand-off could reportedly be over by tomorrow, possibly concluding a standoff which has dominated politics and diplomacy for weeks.


Prime Minister Kevin Rudd fielded fierce criticism over his handling of the affair in parliament, as Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono cancelled his visit to Canberra amid tensions.

Australian officials have told their Indonesian counterparts that all 56 Tamils still aboard the Australian customs vessel have finally agreed to leave the ship.

Indonesia’s top diplomat on the ground on the island of Bintan, Dr Sujatmiko, said he and his team would travel to the vessel on Wednesday morning to verify Australia’s advice.

“We are going to vessel tomorrow and if they really voluntarily want to leave, then we will take them,” Sujatmiko told AAP.

“But if not, we will see.”

The 46 men, five women and five children will enter the Tanjung Pinang Detention Centre, joining the 22 men who left the ship on Friday.

Once that happens, the Oceanic Viking will be able to set sail for Australia.

Australia picked up the Tamils more than a month ago in international waters inside Indonesia’s search and rescue zone.

The Oceanic Viking took them to Bintan, but the Tamils refused to leave, insisting they wanted to go to Christmas Island, sparking the four-week impasse.

But all the asylum seekers have now accepted a generous deal from the Australian government that will see all of them – provided they are judged to be genuine refugees – resettled in Australia within months.

The preferential treatment has sparked tensions inside the detention centre, where other inmates are forced to endure a much longer wait to have their refugee cases processed and be resettled.

“We are not angry, not jealous,” one Tamil, who goes by the name Chandra and has been in the centre for seven months, told AAP.

“They are also Sri Lankans. But we wait for many months. Still nobody has come for us. What will Australia do for us? We also like to go there.”