Human Rights, IDPs and Refugees, Peace and Conflict

Asylum Seeking Downunder…

The 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers are making news in Australia. They haven’t been sent to Indonesia to be ‘processed’ and it’s unlikely they’ll be handed back to the Sri Lankan Government. But they have been moved to Nauru for processing. In the past, Nauru has been used to process other asylum seekers who have attempted to arrive in Australia through unofficial channels.

The tactic, known as the Pacific Solution, aims at keeping asylum seekers to Australia offshore, in a isolated island that’s difficult for refugee advocates to access, and out of sight from the media spotlight. The detention centre in Nauru is funded by Australia, costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year. BUT that’s a whole other issue.

Though one may be able to argue whether they left Sri Lanka because their lives were in danger – I think there’s little doubt that if you are young, and of Tamil origin, and living in the North or East, then you would live with a relatively high level of anxiety – a relatively high level of fear for one’s safety. And the Government, the LTTE and the Karuna faction would all be contributing to this level of fear.

I have included below a letter to the editor that was published in today’s Melbourne Age newspaper. In fact, there are a couple of letters, that lead the column.

The Message is strong, but will it be heard? (The Age, 19 March 07)

LIKE us, many first and second-generation Australian-Tamils assist friends and relatives to rebuild their lives in Australia. Having heard about horrific life experiences in Sri Lanka, we find it difficult to fathom that shipping refugees to Nauru ( The Age, 17/3) will deter people-smugglers.

The reality is the asylum seekers are genuine refugees. Sri Lankan Tamils as refugee claimants have the highest “success” rate in Australia, with more than 90 per cent of claimants found to be refugees. This is because they are fleeing a country with an abysmal rights record and complete disregard for the rule of law.

Since 2006, more than 4000 lives have been claimed by the renewed fighting. This is in addition to the 65,000 lost lives over the past 30 years. What many miss in the statistics is that it is the predominantly Tamil population of the north and east that bears the brunt of the fighting, with children, journalists, activists and aid workers being caught in the crossfire.

Such life-threatening circumstances will inevitably lead to desperate measures. Because young men are prime targets for brutal interrogation or military recruitment, concerned parents will often mortgage their family homes or raise money through loan sharks to send their sons away.

It is in times such as these that people smugglers stand to profit, because they will say and do whatever it takes to get destitute people out of Sri Lanka. The smugglers take advantage and demand payment up-front and because there is no orderly exit process, people take the avenue with the slightest glimpse of hope.

The humane thing to do is to listen to these men and hear their case. Sacrificing them to the trauma and uncertainty of Nauru for a “message” that will only fall on deaf ears is just not right, it is un-Australian.

Theresa Rajah, Jayani Nadarajalingam, Mathavan Parameswaran, Loga Prasanna Chandakumar and Pratheepan Balasubramaniam, Australian-Tamil Rights Advocacy Council

There’s also another another article in today’s Age titled “Sri Lanka faces humanitarian crisis as 150,000 flee fighting“. It’s about the internal refugees, the IDPs escaping the fighting.

from The Age

It’ll be interesting to see or hear how the Sri Lankan authorities are responding to this latest foregrounding of what’s happening on the island, here in Australia.

  • SH

    First hand acocunts of the Sri Lankan refugees in Christmas Island/Nauru:

  • Sonique

    Haven’t read much in the SL media about this issue – Sripathi, Mangala and the Human Rights Sessions in Geneva taking up a lot of space these days.

    Think there are two issues here – one, Australia’s usual treatment meted out to refugees and two, the legitimacy of the claims of the SL refugees.

    The Refugee Council of Australia, in a statement released on 17th March, says so:

    “Those who have their claims for asylum processed on Nauru are denied access to legal advice and independent administrative and judicial review of the decision, basic safeguards necessary to ensure that each claim is given a full and fair hearing.”

    However, it also says:

    “Anyone who is aware of the escalation of the civil war in Sri Lanka realises that these asylum seekers are likely to have strong claims for protection.”


    Now that may or may not be true. To verify the claims of persecution would also be near impossible – the GOSL and LTTE are never going to say that these people are under threat. It’s an interesting problem – but while it’s sorted out, we pray that those in Naaru get treated well.

  • POEM – Immigrants

    I cross ocean,
    poor and broke,

    Take bus,
    see employment folk.

    Nice man
    treat me good in there,
    Say I need
    go see Welfare.

    Welfare say,
    “You come no more,

    We send cash
    right to your door.”

    Welfare checks,
    they make you wealthy,

    it keep you healthy!

    By and by,
    Got plenty money,

    Thanks to you,
    TAXPAYER dummy.

    Write to friends
    in motherland,

    Tell them
    ‘come, fast as you can’

    They come in turbans
    and Ford trucks,

    I buy big house
    with welfare bucks.

    They come here,
    we live together,

    More welfare checks,
    it gets better!

    Fourteen families,
    they moving in,

    But neighbor’s patience
    wearing thin.

    Finally, white guy
    moves away,
    . .
    I buy his house,
    and then I say,

    “Find more aliens
    for house to rent.”

    In my yard
    I put a tent.

    Send for family
    they just trash,
    But they, too,
    draw welfare cash!

    Everything is
    very good,
    Soon we own
    whole neighborhood.

    We have hobby
    it called breeding,

    Welfare pay
    for baby feeding.

    Kids need dentist?
    Wife need pills?

    We get free!
    We got no bills!

    TAXPAYER crazy!
    He pay all year,
    To keep welfare
    running here.

    We think Australia
    darn good place!
    Too darn good
    for White man race.

    If they no like us,
    they can scram,
    Got lots of room
    in Afghanistan.


  • SH

    Apart from the politics and the legalities, with regard to the particular assylum seekers mentioned in the above post clearly some were found to have shrapnel embedded in them. One had to be removed for treatment in hospital and fortunately had relatives who were able to assist him with legal aid etc. (See link above)

  • There’s no question that these are economic migrants. But I think anyone who would go through all that trouble just to get a better life probably deserve to be in Australia, provided none of them are involved with the LTTE.

  • SH

    JustMal said “There’s no question that these are economic migrants”.
    It would probably be more appropriate to explain how “there is no question” ie qualify a personal opinion with supporting facts.

  • SH

    re: speculation in Sam’s post on how the Sri Lankan authorities are or may respond to the latest developments…I am not sure if the Sri Lankan government is in the equation anymore.

    From information given by australian media sources and refugee advocates, it appears that some of the cases are pretty water tight. In fact there have been allegations ( that the Australian government has hurriedly spirited off the assylum seekers to Nauru because of this. Kevin Andrews, minister of immigration stated on ABC radio on friday that “It’s not our intention to bring them to Australia, it’s our intention to seek, for those who are found to be genuine refugees, resettlement elsewhere.” Clearly, if the cases are found to be genuine, the Australian government cannot legally send them back to Sri Lanka and has to find another place; as stated in the original post thats a whole other story. So I think maybe this is now more an australian issue, than a Sri lankan one. ie how does Australia handle the issue of Asylum seekers, what implications does it have for the coming election etc. which is outside the scope of this website.

    Not sure of the point of the poem above, but to provide some perspective to the Sri Lankan asylum seeker situation:
    For those not familiar with the immigration profile in Australia, the largest number of illegal immigrants come from Britain and the United States of America (, and looking at some statistics before 2001 which I don’t have on hand, the largest group of immigrants who obtained welfare payments were from New Zealand (not familiar with the current statistics since laws were changed for New Zealanders in 2001). India has taken in about 17 000 Sri Lankan Tamils seeking refuge over the last year. It would probably ease the burden on India if they could ship some of them off to Australia.

  • SH

    India also has refugee camps for people fleeing from countries such as Tibet, and Afghanistan.

  • Australia would provide them with a much better quality of life than what they would have in Sri Lanka even without the alleged (and most likely false) claims of torture and hardship. If they weren’t economic migrants, wouldn’t it have been easier for them to swim across to Tamil Nadu?

    But the fact is, Australia needs hardworking tax paying migrants to sustain its welfare economy. At the same time, there’s a lot of concern (particularly among the conservative voters) about refugees living off the dole and being involved in criminal activities, . That’s why it’s important for the Coalition government to act tough on illegals while increasing skilled migration on the sly.

    Much of the evidence for these torture allegations are based on unsubstantiated hearsay and anectodal evidence and certainly not water tight. The onus is on them to prove their claims, not the detractors to disprove them. That said, I think anyone who could make a positive contribution to the Australian society while increasing their own quality of life, should be allowed to stay in Australia if they’ve made it this far.

  • SH

    JustMal says “If they weren’t economic migrants,
    wouldn’t it have been easier for them to swim
    across to Tamil Nadu?”

    (the Sri Lankan Health Minister also proposed this when questioned by australian media)
    The ASRC co-ordinator explains why this proposition
    has logistical problems:

    1. The Sri Lankan Navy has sunk many boats on the basis that they are all Tamil Tigers. While some are LTTE boats, many are refugees trying to escape the violence.

    2. For a Tamil to fly to India requires a Visa from the Indian High Commission. The Indian government already have hundreds of thousands of Tamil refugees. The visa requires a police clearance. A Tamil seeking such a clearance from a police station will be imprisoned. Clearly India is not an option for these reasons.

    3. If we look at the evidence- young men are at risk of being inducted into the military and militias, of being kidnapped and murdered.

    4. The Health minister claimed that these asylum seekers were both economic refugees and potential Tiger Terrorists-a pretty broad claim when he also said that he knew little about them.

    Finally, regarding Australia providing a better life:
    I am aware of Sri Lankans who would in a heartbeat choose Sri Lanka over Australia if it provided the same level of peace, justice and equity for its citizens.

    In the reflections section of this multimedia presentation on refugee children for Australian school children
    the reflections of Sri Lankan Tamil children (13 year old Bavithra, 13 year old Krishanth and 11 year old Mahen) gives some insight into these feelings. For example according to Krishanth “if there was no war in Sri Lanka…Australia would not even compare to Sri Lanka…it is such a beautiful countrly……”.

    Australia is a much safer place for these Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers. So yes in this sense, they would have a much better quality of life.

  • sam


    Firstly, Australia doesn’t have a welfare economy. It has various nets to provide support to those who are financially struggling, or have difficulties working due to medical conditions. There are those who abuse this system of assistance – but they are very much in the minority.

    I don’t share your view that conservative voters are concerned about “about refugees living off the dole and being involved in criminal activities”. Most conservative voters are actually quite progressive when it comes to concern aobut human well being. They want to do the right thing to help people who are less fortunate than themselves.

    I think this view exists among ignorant and insecure voters, who are mostly informed by tabloid newspapers and radio talk back that pushes the line that refugees are going to take advantage of australia’s generosity and could be criminals and even terrorists.

    This hype, unfortunately, can influence the broader society – which sometimes does happen. And unfortunately, the Australia’s media likes to drive this furthering the ‘media frenzy’ about topics that aslyum seekers coming is could be terrorists, etc… But a vast majority of Australians – conservatives and others, are fair people, who deserve those who have experience hardship should be supported to have a better life.

    In terms of torture allegations – let the investigators who will be assessing the claim for asylum determine this. I am sure they’ll produce a report that you will be able to access if you wanted to.

  • SH, of course they would say that, wouldn’t they. After all, they can’t go and admit they’ve come here purely for economic reasons. Of course they need other excuses.

    1. I can’t recall the navy ever having sunk boatloads of refugees. Do you have any evidence (news reports etc) to back up your claims? I doubt it. Surely crossing 32km is less risky than sailing all the way to Australia. Verdict: B/S!

    2. On what grounds would the police arrest Tamil civilians simply because they’ve asked for a security clearance, unless of course he/she is a known terrorist/criminal. Thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese and others fly from Sri Lanka to India every month, and all of them get the requisite clearances. Verdict: B/S!

    3. Militias perhaps, but certainly not the military. Again, going to Tamil Nadu or to Colombo would considerably lessen the chances of that happening.

    4. LTTE is known to be involved in human trafficking. Surely they must have had some help from professional human smugglers to get all the way to Australia. The chances of them being involved with the LTTE are very high, that’s why it’s absolutely important to conduct thorough and meticulous background checks on them.

    They would have a much better quality of life in Australia in terms of being able to earn higher wages, access to social security and housing, better education, healthcare, transport etc. If safety was a big concern they wouldn’t risk their lives to get here. Australia is a developed first world country while Sri Lanka is a developing third world one. Of course these people (who are probably from low income working class backgrounds in Sri Lanka) would do anything and say anything to get to Australia.

    Sam, Australia does have a welfare economy where everything, from tertiary education to heroin syringes, is subsidised by the government. Millions of healthy and employable people live on Centrelink without trying to look for work. Demographically, most of them are rural, blue collar Aussies or newly arrived refugees in the suburbs. The Australian economy is dependent on skilled migrants who work hard and pay taxes. In light of the fact that Australia did have a white-only policy until the late 60s, the recent race riots in Cronulla, anti-Muslim/anti-Asian hysteria in the mainstream media, official renunciation of the commitment to multi-culturalism by the federal government and the new focus on assimilationism, defeat of the left-faction leaders of the opposition Labour party, foreigners who refuse to kiss the Australian flag and pledge allegiance to it being beaten up at the “Big Day Out” last year, second coming of Pauline Hanson, and even the calls by the Anglican church to stop Muslim migration; no, I don’t think these feelings are only limited to an ignorant and insecure minority of voters.

    There are justifiable reasons for this apparent xenophobia. In the last few decades, Australia has allowed in people from very different cultures (esp from non-Commonwealth nations) who’ve had a hard time adjusting to the Australian way of life, and many of them have refused to integrate with the Australian society, adopt Aussie values, learn English or show any loyalty to Australia. The conduct of extremist Muslim clerics and other communal leaders have only aggravated these feelings among the general population. Violence and crime among some refugee groups are so high that an Australian town recently refused entry to Sudanese refugees on account of them being potential criminals.

    With the election coming up and the government being heavily unpopular against the new charistmatic right-wing Labour leader, it is important for Howard to consolidate his conservative base by appearing very tough on immigration issues. Speaking for myself, I don’t have a problem with allowing these people to live in Australia provided they don’t live on the dole and do work hard to make a living. But accepting them as refugees compels the government to provide them with these benefits, which is why they don’t even want to process them on Australian soil.

  • SH

    JustMal you pose some valid questions in your post.

    However, there also many areas in your post that are littered with ubsubstatiated claims. Eg. “Thousands of Tamils, Sinhalese and others fly from Sri Lanka to India every month, and all of them get the requisite clearances.” Well, if these “thousands” have managed to fly to India…of course they have got clearance. But what of those who have applied and have not been cleared? What is the demographic? We either need some statistics, or more authoritative sources to back this up. After all you are asking me to do the same….and I will concede that it is necessary for me to do so.

    I would prefer to be involved in a productive exchange of ideas, as oposed to simply exchanging words with those who wish to air pre-conceived views. I am in fact open to learning and modifying my own opinions. I hope you have similar objectives. Otherwise, I am sure we both would benefit from spending time on other more productive activities. Furthermore, I feel obligated to respect as much as possible, the original intentions of those who have created this website. I suspect if we have not already done so….we are in danger of going on a tangent.

  • sam


    People like you are dangerous!

    Best, Sam.

  • Ian Chappel

    Is this the same Sam who wrote this article? JustMal may be difficult for you to digest but to call him dangerous would be a stretch mate. Lots of voters in Aussie who think the way they do – how else would Howard be in power? If you call him dangerous, those in the government would be even more dangerous mate.

  • sam

    Hi Ian,

    Damn it! I think I am just not communicating clearly enough: I was actually patronizing our friend JustMal. Yes, I know that’s not a nice thing to do… My apologies.

    But let’s say I was serious about JustMal being dangerous, then I would say that those in Government are actually quite stupid – which is what dangerous people want… Remember what Ronald Reagan said – and I know I am taking his statement out context: “The Government is the problem”.

    Back to the cricket, S.

  • SH

    Bizarre news from downunder:
    Australia is doing a swap with US. Cuban and Haitian refugees coming to Australia, Tamil refugees going to US. According to the Oz government, it will dissuade people smugglers from taking refugees to australia. Go figure.