Boat People

KUALA LUMPUR, May 27, 2010 (AFP) – Sixty-one Sri Lankan asylum seekers held in a Malaysian immigration depot Thursday entered day three of a hunger strike in a desperate effort to win freedom and settlement in a third country. Immigration authorities could not be reached for comment.

Activists say Malaysia is often used as a staging post for trafficking gangs moving people from Myanmar, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka to Indonesia and Australia. The men were taken to an immigration centre at Kuala Lumpur International Airport a month ago and have been on hunger strike since May 25, said K. Arumugam, chairman of rights group Voice of the Malaysian People (Suaram).

The 61 ethnic Tamils are part of a group whose boat strayed into Malaysian waters last month after their engine stalled, he said, before maritime authorities towed them into port in the northern state of Penang.

“We were trying to head to Australia or New Zealand but we faced engine problems,” one of the hunger strikers, A. Raju, aged 25, told AFP by telephone.

“We were saved by Malaysian authorities but we have been languishing here for the past one month. We do not know what is going to happen to us,” he said.

“We do not want to go back to Sri Lan