16 Oct 2009

Asylum seekers holding out on boat

10:35 am on 16 October 2009

More than 250 Sri Lankans aboard a boat being held by Indonesian authorities in western Java have unfurled a large banner declaring a hunger strike.

The ethnic Tamils are refusing to leave their wooden boat at Merak, the ABC reports.

The group wants to be immediately accepted as refugees into a third country and does not want to enter the United Nations' system in which claims can take up to 10 years to process.

Their boat was intercepted by Indonesian authorities after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd personally spoke to President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. The group had been trying to reach Christmas Island.

Australia says responsibility for the group of asylum seekers now rests with Indonesian immigration officials.

Indonesian authorities have been surveying local options to accommodate the asylum seekers in hotels and guest houses, because detention centres are too full.

Their spokesman, who calls himself only 'Alex', was led away to inspect the accomodation. On his return to the boat he helped unfurl a large blue banner on the cabin roof declaring a hunger strike to the international community.

He said the asylum seekers have information the navy was about to try to get them us off the boat because no country will take them.