Refugee Drama

JAKARTA, December 20, 2009 (AFP) – Fifteen of the Sri Lankan asylum seekers who spent weeks refusing to get off the boat that rescued them near Indonesia have left the country, a foreign ministry official said Sunday. “They left Indonesia yesterday. Two were flown to Australia and the other 13 were taken to an evacuation centre in Romania where they will be processed by Canada, which had promised to take them,” foreign ministry official Sujatmiko told AFP.

“The group were mostly families, comprising men, women and children,” he added.

The migrants were part of a group of 78 Sri Lankans rescued at sea from their sinking boat by the Australians in Indonesia’s search-and-rescue zone in October, as they attempted to get to Australia.

The group had refused to leave the boat in Indonesia, saying they wanted to be taken to Australia but agreed to disembark after receiving assurances they would be quickly resettled abroad.

The weeks-long stand-off fuelled an intense refugee debate in Australia and piled pressure on Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to stem the flow of boat people through Indonesia, amid a sharp increase in arrivals this year.

The migrants say they face persecution at home, where a decades-old