Sovereign Borders: Detected, Intercepted and Removed 5i - The Jaya Lestari


A show of defiance: the Jaya Lestari

A spray painted timber sign erected on an asylum seeker boat reads 'We Are Sri Lankan Civilians. Plz Save Our Life'.

[imagecaption] Sign on the Jaya Lestari, Merak, 2009. Photo published on [/imagecaption]

‘Please help us and save our lives. We are your children. Please think of us, please, please. ‘

Brindha, 8 year old on board the Jaya Lestari


In October 2009, then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd called on Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to intercept a boat, the Jaya Lestari, carrying 254 Tamil refugees travelling from Indonesia to Australia.

After being towed to a port in Merak, West Java, by the Indonesian navy, the group on board the Jaya Lestari, which included 31 children, collectively refused to disembark. One hundred and nine of the passengers were already UNHCR-certified refugees and many had already spent years in Indonesia waiting for resettlement. In virtual siege conditions over several months, the group staged an extended sit-in aboard the Jaya Lestari, a powerful refusal to accept the delays to resettlement that left them in limbo.

Weeks after the boat was intercepted, a 29 year old man named Jacob died on board from complications arising from a stomach infection. Despite this, a large proportion of the group continued to resist for six months until they were removed by force and taken to an Indonesian detention centre, funded by Australia. Another two people – Bahirathan and Thileepkumar – who had been on the Jaya Lestari and had UNHCR refugee cards, drowned in 2010 after attempting to take another boat to reach Australia.

By 2012, people from the Jaya Lestari were still awaiting resettlement. They continued to speak out against the prolonged uncertainty they faced through making public statements and participating in protests. Eventually some of those, including one of the spokespeople, Nimal, and the young girl, Brindha, were resettled in Australia.  It remains unclear how many more of the groups remain to be settled.


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