TANJUNG PINANG, Indonesia: The 22 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who left the Australian customs vessel Oceanic Viking and are being held in Indonesian detention are being kept separate from other detainees out of fear they will be targeted because they are receiving special treatment.
A source inside the Australian-funded, Indonesian-run Tanjung Pinang detention centre told the Herald there was tension between the different groups of detainees.
"There is resentment from the guards, too, because they see the different treatment to the different groups," he said.
He said the other detainees were resentful the Sri Lankans were having asylum claims heard more quickly, and even that they were being fed better.
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has maintained there has been no special deal offered to the Sri Lankans.
He told Parliament yesterday that "the group is being treated in a manner consistent with that afforded to any other asylum seeker in Indonesia".
Yesterday, officials from the United Nations began processing the Sri Lankans' asylum claims. Australian embassy staff also spent several hours at the detention centre yesterday.
There is no contact between the Sri Lankans and other detainees, mainly from Afghanistan.
They are kept in separate wings of the three-storey complex, eat their meals apart and have a separate recreation area.
The Sri Lankans are being kept mainly in a large room, designed to accommodate 40 people, on the ground floor in the middle of the complex.
The Tanjung Pinang detention centre has been the subject of controversy in recent weeks after allegations from Afghan detainees they were regularly beaten and robbed by guards. The 22 Sri Lankan men, all Tamils, went into detention on Friday after agreeing to leave the Oceanic Viking after a three-week stand-off.
They have been promised a speedy hearing on their claims for asylum. Several already have documents from the UN declaring them to be refugees, and have been guaranteed resettlement in Australia within a month.
But 56 compatriots remain on the Oceanic Viking, anchored off Tanjung Pinang. Most are refusing to leave until they are taken to Christmas Island.
It is believed that at least four asylum seekers on board want to get off, but it is not known when Indonesian authorities will move to bring them ashore. An Indonesian navy ship has begun patrolling around the Oceanic Viking, keeping other boats more than 100 metres from the customs vessel.
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