Page last updated at 09:46 GMT, Thursday, 29 October 2009

Indonesia 'might expel' refugees

By Karishma Vaswani
BBC News, Jakarta

Sri Lankan asylum seekers aboard Australian customs ship Oceanic Viking moored off Indonesia - 28 October 2009
The Sri Lankas have been on this Australian customs ship for 11 days

Indonesia says the 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers moored in a boat off Sumatra must co-operate with authorities over identity checks or risk expulsion.

The Sri Lankans were intercepted in Indonesian waters eleven days ago while trying to reach Australia.

Australia and Indonesia agreed to a deal last week which in principle would see the asylum seekers moved to an Indonesian detention centre.

But the Sri Lankans, ethnic Tamils, are refusing to leave the ship.

'No choice'

Indonesia's foreign ministry spokesperson Teuku Faizahsyah has told the BBC that Indonesia will only be able to host the 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers once they have been clearly identified.

The refugees have so far resisted any efforts to get off the Oceanic Viking, an Australian customs ship that picked them up in Indonesian waters.

Mr Faizahsyah says if this stand-off continues, Indonesia will have no choice but to expel the Sri Lankans.

This has turned into an embarrassing problem for the Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, who last week agreed to a deal with Australia to look after the 78 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Indonesia.

The deal has been seen as a prelude to a wider-ranging agreement between the two nations which is expected to be signed formally at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.

It has been dubbed the Indonesian solution.

In theory it would see Australia handing over cash to Indonesia, in exchange for Jakarta ensuring that ships heading for Australia with asylum seekers on board are intercepted.

But the agreement has been criticised by some in Indonesia who say it is just a way for Australia to outsource its problems to this country.

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