[Editors note: Watch SBS Dateline’s Sri Lanka’s New Wave, broadcast first in Australia on 28 August 2012, here.]

Dear Mark,

I am intensely troubled by the tenor of your report on Sri Lankan Tamil refugees on today’s Dateline.

The picture you painted of the country doesn’t accord with any of the accounts I’ve heard, nor with well documented reports by international and local sources (eg. the Commission for Justice and Peace of the Diocese of Jaffna, Sri Lanka report). The government’s refusal to implement the findings of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the reception of the subsequent U.N Resolution alone should tell you something about the triumphalism and arrogance with which the state approaches the process of rebuilding.

The program of Sinhalisation and militant Buddhism now underway in Sri Lanka (including recent attacks on a Mosque) were not even mentioned, nor was the corruption within the ruling family and the sense of impunity with which it operates, as evidenced by the continuing disappearances of government critics (of all ethnic groups) – e.g. Ganesan Nimalaruban: A damning murder, funeral and silence and Not In Our Name: Campaign update and video. The interview with the Information Minister, one of a series of Comical Ali type apologists for the regime, was nothing less than grotesque.

Although I know you are not responsible for the promos for your report, I was extremely disturbed by the footage of two little children saying they wanted to go to Australia for a “good education” and “a good life.” It turned out this was a selective extract from a much more complex interview, but even had that not been the case, what else are parents supposed to promise their children? Do we really need to turn the words of little children against them, in order to support the line that they and their parents are exploiting Australia as a soft touch?

And speaking of a soft touch, haven’t you seen the other kinds of commercials that the Australian government runs in Tamil and other regional languages? I find it chilling that my government, the Australian government, could promote such images of terror to already traumatised refugees in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. That people are drawn to seek refuge here is a measure of their need, not an indicator that we are a soft touch.

Is your account SBS’s attempt at “balance” to counter the effects of “Go back to where you came from?” If so it is a sad and dishonourable one.

Suvendrini Perera

Professor Suvendrini Perera
Director, Research & Creative Production, School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts
Deputy Director, Australia-Asia-Pacific Institute
Curtin University

  • Wijebahu

    Hi Suvendrini, do not try to sidetrack the issue by pointing out cooruption and other issues for refugee influx. we all know sri lanka has corruption and it is a different issue. botom line is Australia should not grant political assylum for people who aree seeking for better life. it is a known fact most of them are economic refugees looking for a better life. it is proven they are not escaping the country from persecution or torture. we all know australia is a great country to live and that does not mean they should open there doors to all sorts of problems arround the world.

    • Buddhika

      How many people are directly and indirectly affected by:

      Actually it’s generations:

      Let’s put an end to these ”appointments of commissions” to steer our country in the right direction to peace and prosperity

    • Nelum Bandara

      ”it is proven they are not escaping the country from persecution or torture” ??

      In that case many reports by Sri Lankan and foreign individuals and indivdual journalists, national, regional and international and UN reports must be false.

      Those who are directly affected may or may not be fleeing. But those who fear that they may be the next may also be fleeing.

      Whether anybody is fleeing or not, the country is in a pathetic condition.

      There are thousands in prisons WITHOUT CHARGES for up to 20 yrs or so.
      There are so many cases of murders inside and outside prisons that go without investigations or punishment. Impunity is intrinsic in our institutions.

      Please give your voice to these voiceless. How many of these would have ever touched a computer? posted a message?
      All the more reason for us to give them our voice.

    • Buddhika


      Let’s do something about:

      SRI LANKA: Complainant of human rights violation case is illegally arrested and severely tortured at the SP’s office of Negombo, 21 August 2012, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-147-2012

      SRI LANKA: Two more innocent men have been detained for almost three years without being charged, 28 August 2012, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-150-2012

      SRI LANKA: A prisoner is in critical condition in hospital after being subjected to severe torture by prison officers, 29 August 2012, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-153-2012

      SRI LANKA: An innocent man is illegally arrested, detained, tortured and forced to sign false documents by the Rattota Police, 29 August 2012, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-151-2012

      SRI LANKA: An innocent 19-year-old was illegally arrested, tortured and forced to sign fraudulent documents by the Bandaragama police, 30 August 2012, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-157-2012

      SRI LANKA: An innocent man was illegally arrested, tortured and laid with fabricated charges by the Bandaragama Police, 30 August 2012, http://www.humanrights.asia/news/urgent-appeals/AHRC-UAC-155-2012

    • Canaga

      Yes – the programme satisfies people like Wijebahu, Biddhika and others. But what they forget is the irreplaceable tragedy your racial politics caused the Tamils.
      The only Sinhala politicians who would have reasonably well solved the problem is SWRD Banda….. But he was not allowed to do this by murdering him – by whom – a Bhikku (Monk) – can you believe it – is this the teachings of Buddha that is followed in SL?
      SWRD had to come to power by preaching Sinhala only etc. But it was not his aim, but the Senanayakes would not allow him to take power. So he preached racial politics during elections, on which he did not truly believe – and the result he was murdered – is this Buddhism?
      SJV Chelva, who was a true Gandhian type politician tried peace for 25 years, and failed and then allowed the boys to take over – the birth of LTTE and “other Boys movements”.
      If you remember that from 1957 onwatds, the Tamils faced untold misery, followed by the 1983 riots in which many thousands of Tamils were killed by the Sinhala mobs, houses were plundered – using the phone book addresses, etc. The tragedy of 1983 will not be dorgotten by the Tamils. Is this worse than what LTTE did, or were you not born then?
      However, having said all this the worst mistake made was not to accept the 2004 peace agenda and live with it. Most freedom fighters do this mistake, including the IRA when they killed the Queen’s uncle, and bombed Margret Thatcher’s hotel bed room. However the “uderstanding” British finally reached an agreement.
      Let SL carry on onits way and eventually fall to pieces, but the Politicians become richer and richer – that is waht the people want – is it not. Good luck to you.

  • Danielle

    Dear Professor Suvendrini Perera

    I just wanted to commend you on your letter in response to the SBS showing of Dateline last night, Tuesday 28th August 2012.

    I work very closely with asylum seekers in Australia, and was similarly troubled by the picture painted of Sri Lankan Tamil’s and their quest for a better life in ‘the land of milk and honey’, simply because it was better than being in Sri Lanka. I was appalled that well known troubles and persecution within the areas of conflict were not brought to discussion, and the illusion of the jobs, money and houses ‘given’ to asylum seekers reaching Australian shores was exacerbated by the careful editing of the misunderstandings of asylum seekers. It is widely known amongst educated people (NOT the media) that Tamil people are persecuted still, including disappearances and killings. It is sad that the ignorance is being further encouraged by yet another one-sided media source.
    Thank you for taking the time to express the concerns that are shared by many Australians, but sadly not enough of them! I am interested to hear of the response you may receive from SBS.

    • Harshula


      1. I have asked Western journalists, including Australians, about their experiences covering Sri Lanka. The general feeling is regardless of what they write/say there will be someone that complains. The enthusiastic elements within the Tamil Eelam lobby and anti-Eelam groups shout quite loudly and frequently, sometimes irrationally and/or disingenuously. This is particularly true in Australia. One wonders whether Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka will reconcile before the Sri Lankans in Sydney!

      2. The LTTE was never proscribed as a terrorist organisation in Australia even though two Australian Prime Ministers attempted it. In the first instance NGOs fought against it.

      3. I have asked Australians about their level of interest in Sri Lanka. Most could not care less. Sri Lanka is a cricket team first and, now, a source of asylum seekers that arrive on boats.

      4. The asylum seeker issue is heavily politicised and controversial in Australia. The arrival of asylum seekers by boat seems to create more anger than those arriving by plane. The Tamil Eelam lobby recently offered to pay for the journey of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers to Australia. (http://expertpanelonasylumseekers.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/public-submissions/TamilsAgainstGenocide.pdf)

      5. There are fundamental faults in Australia’s approach to asylum seekers and the accuracy of the processes that determine if an asylum seeker is a refugee. Those working in the refugee sector do admit there are some asylum seekers that are not genuine refugees. However, there are also asylum seekers with harrowing tales of violence. There is much Australia could learn from Canada’s approach to asylum seekers.

      6. UNHCR’s description of a fault in Australia’s system:

      “Despite calls by foreign governments, including Sri Lanka, to return bogus refugees as a deterrent, fewer than 2 per cent of the 21,000 asylum-seekers who have arrived since 2008 have been deported. Head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Australia Richard Towle said yesterday that there must be “meaningful consequences” for asylum-seekers whose refugee claims failed, arguing returns were essential to the integrity of any asylum system.

      “You need a fair and accurate asylum process that identifies refugees and the return of those who don’t need protection,” he told The Australian. “The overall integrity of the asylum system needs both of those in play – the rights given to those who are refugees and the return of those who are not. Without returns, the integrity of the whole system is undermined.””(http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/asylum-system-flooded-but-deportations-slow-to-a-trickle/story-fn9hm1gu-1226438979135)

      7. Economic migrants?: “As a Tamil in (Sinhalese-dominated) Kandy, people question why you’re there. Police start tracking you and CID comes and that happens frequently because I am from Vavuniya in the north. The LTTE trouble is long back, but as Tamils we have a loophole to say the army is chasing us. What I heard was Australia won’t deport you if you say that.” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/dramatic-mid-sea-transfer-ends-freedom-run/story-fn9hm1gu-1226438080707)

      8. There have been instances of Indians pretending to be Sri Lankan in order to gain refugee status (http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/sri-lanka-emerges-as-launchpad-for-human-smuggling/).


      1. Mark Davis has successfully presented a very narrowly focused story that the Australian public care about. The pertinent question being whether the majority of recent Sri Lankan asylum seekers are primarily fleeing due to a fear of persecution or due to the pursuit of better economic conditions. The Australian Tamil Eelam lobby utilises asylum seekers to further their own agenda. Hence, reports by the likes of SBS’ Mark Davis, The Australian’s Amanda Hodge and Channel 7’s Tim Noonan brings into question the credibility of vocal and visible Tamil Eelam lobbyists in Australia.

      2. Amusingly, the translation/subtitling is credited to: “Sara Nathan, Edilbert Rajadurai, Vaseekaran Rajadurai”. Are all of these individuals NAATI credited? Sara (Saradha) Nathan is one of the most vocal Tamil Eelam lobbyists in Australia. She’s a member of the Australian Tamil Congress (http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2010/s2802875.htm) which is the Australian counterpart of the British Tamil Forum and under the umbrella of the Global Tamil Forum. Most Australian media attribute her solely as a refugee advocate. Though she should be commended for her refugee advocacy, it should also be known that she considers, like Palestinians, Sri Lankan Tamils in the North and East to be under military occupation since Sri Lanka gained independence. This is what she told a Palestinian advocate. Brian Senewiratne of the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Tamil Congress also spoke, as usual mainly about himself. At the same event in Australia, attendees, mainly from the NGO sector, were able to directly communicate via video-call with asylum seekers on-board the Jaya Lestari that was detained at Merak. The whole episode was heavily choreographed aimed at playing to the emotions rather than the intellect with the children paraded in front of the camera. This was the boat of the infamous “Alex”. Read Michael Roberts’ articles that describe the naive gullibility of the Australian media in that instance.

      3. SBS has traditionally been a stronghold of Tamil Eelam lobbyists. In 2000, a Dateline report by Graham Davis revealed that an SBS Radio employee is linked to an organisation alleged to be financing the LTTE.

      “JANA WENDT: SBS managing director Nigel Milan was approached by Dateline, but declined to appear. Instead, Mr Milan provided a short statement:

      STATEMENT BY NIGEL MILAN: SBS management takes very seriously claims of a potential conflict of interest relating to an SBS employee made by the Dateline program. The matter is being fully investigated.”

      Graham Davis was fired afterwards. Tamil Eelam lobbyist Brami Jegatheeswaran (Brami Jegan) has worked at SBS (http://groundviews.org/2011/11/03/australia%E2%80%99s-tamil-eelam-lobby-and-chogm/).

      Suvendrini Perera

      1. re: “That people are drawn to seek refuge here is a measure of their need, not an indicator that we are a soft touch.”

      The question that Suvendrini Perera needs to address is what percentage of recent Sri Lankan asylum seekers are primarily motivated due to economic reasons.

      Suvendrini Perera’s views and personal experience can be read in “What gain in stopping the boats?” (http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/what-gain-in-stopping-the-boats-20091111-i9y1.html) and “Don’t Mention The Push Factors” (http://newmatilda.com/2011/06/28/dont-mention-push-factors). The latter article suggests Suvendrini Perera is not “troubled” or “disturbed” by nor considers the Channel 4 documentary littered with factual errors “grotesque”. Read “Channel 4?s ‘Killing Fields’: Journalism, Advocacy or Propaganda?” (http://groundviews.org/2011/09/13/channel-4s-killing-fields-journalism-advocacy-or-propaganda/)

      2. A careful analysis of Suvendrini Perera’s ‘open letter’ illustrates that it is devoid of tangible criticism. She complains about the “tenor of your report”, “picture you painted”, “was nothing less than grotesque” and lists many unrelated events and issues. Suvendrini Perera has not pointed out a single factual error. “grotesque” and “Comical Ali” make an appearance elsewhere too (http://newmatilda.com/2009/12/15/clear-message-people-smuggling).

      Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora

      • The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora has been a dismal failure at improving the living conditions of Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu, India. This is the biggest stain on the credibility of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora when it claims to care about the plight of Tamils. Perhaps it brings to the forefront the socio-economic segmentation within the Sri Lankan Tamil community.

      • ICG: “Without major shifts in their political strategies, Tamil diaspora organisations are unlikely to play a positive role in post-war Sri Lanka or effectively promote the interests of Tamils and Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka. Most Tamils abroad still believe an independent state is possible and many are even clinging to the belief that the Tiger leadership is still alive. While pro-LTTE elements in the diaspora have reluctantly accepted that armed struggle has failed, many would still prefer the Tigers to be fighting for Tamil Eelam and would be willing to fund a resurgent LTTE. New diaspora initiatives attempt to carry forward the struggle for an independent state in more transparent and democratic ways, but they are still pursuing the LTTE’s agenda, just without its guns. Even these activities are out of step with the wishes and needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka. ” (http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/186-the-sri-lankan-tamil-diaspora-after-the-ltte.aspx)

  • Giri

    Well written Prof. Perera, excellent comment to the SBS documentary. I too found the interviewer being soft with the minister, and I agree with your comparison to comical Ali.

  • Mark Davis

    Oh, its an open letter is it? Well here is my reply which I sent to you privately.

    Hello Suvendrini. I can accept all of your points about the various reports. I guess from the tone of your message there is not much point in reporting anything else. I think if you check our website you will see a number of stories on the Tamil issue more to your liking. I can respect your views on the various reports but I also am inclined to respect the views of the Tamil leaders and activists that I spoke to in Sri Lanka. Unfortunately technology doesn’t yet allow me to change their words to suit your thinking. On the government side whether my interview with the minister was grotesque I will leave to your opinion.

    I do object to your suggestion that the report was dishonorable. I think the same of your narrow analysis – particularly if you are teaching media.

    Mark Davis.

    • Luxmy

      Dear Mark Davis

      This is a complex story:

      1.Pl send a fact-finding mission to

      i.find out about those who promise ”boatride” to the desperate people: it’ll lead to connections to the Rajapakses according to residents and visitors to the North and the East

      ii. coastline of Eastern and Northern provinces of Sri Lanka – poor fisherfolk are expelled by rich tourism businessmen and rich tourists. Where is the limit to i.tourism and ii the widening gap between the rich and the poor


      2.Why are western countries offering work permits to highly qualified people in the countries from where these refugees are fleeing?
      Why are people from an island getting off planes treated differently from people from the same island coming in boats?

      3.As a journalist you can help the oppressed in Commonwealth countries get justice by questioning CHOGM and CMAG to take up the utter human rights violations which they have so far been refusing to look at. They are even reluctant to look at the recommendations of the Eminent Persons Group appointed by them two years ago.

      Resolving conflicts is one way of reducing refugees.

      • rita

        OK, Australia has been inundated with ”boatloads” from Sri Lanka.

        Members of intergovernmental organisations have an obligation to help each other toe the founding principles of the organisations (=peace and prosperity of ALL human beings).

        What has Australia been doing at the Commonwealth and the UN about the utter human rights violations in Sri Lanka for decades? about the recommendations of EPG with its eminent citizen Michael Kirby?

        Canadian Prime Minister Harper is said to decide his attendance at CHOGM2013 in Colombo on the steps taken by Sri Lanka to address its violations of human rights of its citizens (=poor governance). What is the Australian Prime Minister’s stand (=prodding Sri Lanka to turn over a new leaf) ??

        All journalism should point towards peace and prosperity of all human beings.

    • Suvendrini Perera

      Dear Mark,

      I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised by the cheap shots.

      For the record: no, I don’t expect any journalist to employ technology to change peoples’ words to suit my thinking.

      I do think that your report might have noted that the TNA politicians interviewed have a certain relationship with the government. So they are not simply Tamil politicians, but Tamil politicians with a particular kind of stake in this discussion. Tamils are not politically monolithic.

      When you say that I might find certain reports “more to my liking” you insinuate that I have a particular kind of alignment — in fact, I have been a consistent critic of the LTTE for over twenty years as any cursory googling of my work will show.

      I wrote to you because the interview did genuinely trouble me. What it lacked, in my view, was a closer analysis of just how deeply the political and the economic are entwined in present day Sri Lanka. I wish you could have provided this, rather than reinforcing the notion that people’s fears were based on the past and not on present realities and they were driven by the search for easy pickings.

      And yes, I was repulsed by the geniality and handshakes with the Minister of Information — as I would be by a similar display of conviviality with an LTTE spokesperson. In both cases I would have expected a more rigorous questioning based on reliable sources such as UN or ICG reports.

      Finally, I stand by my comment that use of the children’s words in the promotion was sad and dishonourable. However, I did state explicitly that this may not be the report’s responsibility.

      Kind regards,


      • rita

        Thank you, Professor

      • Navin

        If Tamils are persecuted in the N & E, why don’t they first consider moving to Western or Central province or to Tamil Nadu? In spite of all the alleged problems in Sri Lanka there are more than a million Tamils who some how manage to make a living and there are more than 60 million of them in Tamil Nadu.

        Yet, these “boat people” seem to prefer Australia and Canada. Why??? If it isn’t the economic benefits why else would they chose these countries?

        Why is their economic woes deserving special consideration and sympathy? In areas these people are coming from, there are so many other people who somehow manage to make ends meet. There are many others who cannot even muster the Rs. 200000+ required for the boat trip.

        If there is economic hardship in N & E in particular, is giving asylum and benefits to just those few making the boat trip to Australia the solution? Instead of moving people to jobs, why not move jobs to people? Why not invest couple of billion dollars in the N & E to create jobs? Why not campaign for that — something that would benefit all affected people?

        At the end of the day, it is the tax money that is invested by GoSL (though demonized so much by likes of you) that is making the real impact. Not the asylum given to few thousand queue jumpers by Australia.

        Is some Buddhists attacking a Mosque in Sri Lanka reason enough to call there is militant Buddhism in Sri Lanka? What of the arsen attacks against Buddhist temples in Canada and England by pro-LTTE groups in recent times? Are they any different from what is happening in SL?

    • Fernando

      Mark Davis analyis is the same as Channel 7 Sri Lankan boat people current affair program aired two weeks ago.In both programs people were comming to Australia, due to lack of economic opportunities in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka corruption is a main issue,countries president having excessive powers, is a major concern all sri lankan in all ethnic communities.Pro Perera left Sri Lanka 30 years ago, when the war started.I understand Prof.Perera’s emotions, because she was homeless and suffered a lot during the civil war. Now the war is finished the ground situation is very much different.People can freely speak in public, politicians can enagage in their work freely (including thamil politicians). Dr Brian Seneviratna is a member of the Trans National of Government of Thamil Ealam. So his views are extreamly one sided.

      • soosai


        Sure eelam Tamils will prefer to go anyplace they want to. Just because they go to central lanka it does not mean they are not persecuted. Ask eelam tamils where they want to go and what they want, the answer is ‘Referendum’. What are you afraid of?

        If eelam tamils think they prefer central lanka, you will find out via Referendum

      • Navin


        As a Sinhalese, I’m not at all opposed to a referendum to separate land between Tamil Eelam and Sri Lanka. It is for Tamils to decide — not Sinhalese. So you can have a referendum among Tamils and decide whether you want to form a Tamil Eelam using 13% of land/coastline in the N & E parts of the country.

        If you want to use the entire N & E provinces for Tamil Eelam, then you need to include other stake holders as well for N & E together comprise 40% of land and 60% of coastline. Which means having a country wide referendum.

        There is no use in saying that whole of N & E is your homeland for though that may be what your historians say, our guys differ. For every historian you can find to justify your homeland, we can find another to say otherwise. Tamils historians cannot be any more or less credible than their Sinhalese counterparts.

        In short, if you just want your share of the pie, you can talk among yourselves and decide what you want to do with it. We as Sinhalese have no special love or hatred towards Tamils. Should you decide to stay with us, you will be treated like everybody else. But, if that’s not good enough for you, you are free to walk out any time. However, if you want to take with you things that also belong to other people, you need to ask them for their consent first!

    • Ravana

      G’day Mark,
      I have to say that your coverage on this issue was refreshingly balanced and respected the intelligence of the viewing public to make up their own minds about the content. This is in contrast to most journalistic endeavours these days, which are highly editorialised to suit the bias of the journalist, the station or the nation.
      I don’t often watch TV but accidentally came across your presentation one evening and was enthralled by the candid depiction without editorialising. Well done.

      OTOH, I do not want to be seen to be an ABC/SBS fan as I have seen occasions of the ABC clearly being agents of the Australian Government as in the case of a documentary many years ago in which the ABC team was clearly in East Timor to undermine the political leader who was NOT going to give Australia unfettered access to Timor Sea Oil.

      Some of the coverage was heart rending to view when one was made aware of the level of poverty these Sri Lankans are enduring. I am for economic refugees coming to Australia, but I prefer them to come using legitimate and safe means despite the barriers which still exist against those of a non-Anglo Saxon background (many Sri Lankans are using such legitimate routes every week).

      I am also for those genuine political refugees, Tamil or others, who need to flee the treachery of a suppreeive and corrupt system as one might find in Sri Lanka (BTW Sri Lanka is a heaven compared to India and only quantitatively different in its corruption compared to Australia).

      However, I am definitely against the use of racist political platform as used by LTTE/Tamil elements at the expense of a plight experienced by all Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnicity. This is not to say that Tamils do not experience racisms in Sri Lanka. All minorities throughout the World from Tamils in Sri Lanka to Aborigines in Australia experience the plight of discrimination, usually in the hands of their fellow citizens and organisations and less so in the hands of the states themselves.

      Once again I congratulate you in the least biased doco I have seen in years.

  • Dr Brian Senewiratne

    prefessor Perera
    i could not agree more with what you said so well

    Brian SenewiratneBRIAN SENEWIRATNE
    MA(Cantab), MBBChir(Cantab),MBBS (Hons) (Lond) Mt Gravatt East 4122
    MD(Lond), FRCP(Lond), FRACP

    Consultant Physician 0419335334

    • Garawi

      It looks that Dr. Brian Seneviratne, a show off, whoever it is, is trying to promote himself in this forum by publicly displaying an array of educational qualifications he apparently has while there are many who may have better qualifications are simply writing with just their names. Just noticed!

      Most of these people writing against Sri Lanka seem to know very little about the reason why boat people are arriving here. I did not see this SBS program but from what ever is written about it here it seem a correct interpretation of the situation. It is not only from Sri Lanka but there are people from many other countries trying to enter Australia illegally. Just today a boat capsized and many died before help arrived. There seem to be a increased illegal traffic coming in now before the Nauru agreement is signed to send the boat people there. Are they all politically persecuted ?? And if they are political refugees why are they coming all the way to Australia and not just get out of their countries to the closest neighboring country ?? It is quite clear and well reported that there is an organized human smuggling networks set up in the world who charge thousands of dollars to get these poor people across. Australia is not the only country affected by these smugglers but also Italy and Canada. It is these Human smugglers you people need to talk to and not to blame Sri Lanka who is trying hard after a 30 year want to bring the two ethnic groups together. Corruption does exist in Sri Lanka in massive scale but that has no connection to this matter.

  • Mary

    The situation in Sri Lanka is very simple and clear in:

    ‘’My own set of immediate demands as a citizen are as follows—roll back the Eighteenth Amendment; restore the Seventeenth Amendment and the Constitutional Council with improvements; guarantee judicial independence and independence of all oversight bodies; stop political interference in and politicization of public institutions; take strong measures to prevent discrimination based on ethnicity, gender, language and religion; let law enforcement (meaning the ordinary law–not exceptional laws) take its own course, do not provide protection to erring political favourites; respect and protect free expression, association and assembly– adopt a policy of ‘let a thousand flowers bloom’; adopt a zero tolerance policy on torture, abductions and involuntary disappearances; permit free and fair elections and respect the people’s will’’ – An Ideology of Reconciliation Cannot be Built Without Basic Ingredients of Democracy and Rule of Law, Dr. Deepika Udagama (Head, Department of Law, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka), 15 August 2012, http://dbsjeyaraj.com/dbsj/archives/9627#more-9627

  • anbu

    Thank you. Have circulated it amongst friends in Australia too.

  • Vinod Perea

    Get used to it, the truth will eventually come out, 99% of the people coming from SL are economic refugees, encouraged by their relatives in Australia to take the risk of being drowned on the way here. They are guilty of man slaughter!

    Just look at the guys coming out of the Boats, they do not look like they are under nourished and persecuted, sure SL is a developing country and most of the people will love to come here, but in reality it is not possible. And no reason to say that Sinhalese are killing the Tamils in Sri Lanka, When were you last in Colombo? 60% are Tamils any way!

    As for refugees in Tamil Nadu, yes they do look pretty bad, looked after by those cheep politicians in Tamil Nadu who are playing games with innocent people. If I was a Tamil in Tamil Nadu, go to SL and start a new life,

    • Mary

      Some of those returned are staying in camps and some have gone back to India.
      Pl let the Tamils have the elections for the Northern Province:

      ‘’The macro-economic decisions that the government makes in terms of developments in the north are not made with the participation of the people or their representatives. This is a major problem and cause for resentment. There is often no consultation with the people. Where there is consultation, the decisions made can benefit the people even more, and be more fully accepted by the people. An example would be the Presidential Task Force for Northern Development. This governmental regulatory body is located in Colombo and is virtually all Sinhalese in its ethnic composition, even though most of the people in the north are Tamil. Several of its members are retired military officers.
      Those who seek to do developmental work in the north point out that they have to travel all the way to Colombo, sometimes on several occasions, to get the necessary approval for work to be done in the north. Sometimes those they deal with in the Presidential Task Force are ignorant of the ground situation in the specific locality in which the work is going to be done. Sometimes when the reality of the situation is explained to them, they are prepared to change their minds. But it takes a lot of meetings with them, and lot of travel to Colombo, to make this happen. The irony of these situations is that the government is not providing the money for the work to be done. This money comes from international donors for the rehabilitation of the people of the north. But decision makers in Colombo decide what should be done without reference to the wishes of the people of the area’’ – National Peace Council of Sri Lanka, 25 June 2012

  • Thank you very much Prof.Perera.

    I hope and pray they all get across safely and live in peace and freedom.

    Leveticus.19.33.” When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born.Love him as your self..”

    • Suvendrini Perera

      Dear Sandy,
      Thank you for this beautiful comment. I’ll cite it in my teaching.


  • Marilyn

    I have to wonder why our media are so obsessed with people who come on boats, there are thousands of asylum seekers who come from dozens of different countries but the media don’t run around those countries interviewing those who want to leave to be safe.

    Go to China and interview Falun Gong, or Lebanon.

    Always, always interview refugees once they have left their countries, don’t show the world who they are in their countries because you get them killed.

    It’s not rocket science even if Mark Davis decides on snark.

    As for the crap about traffickers, how people travel and who they pay is nothing to do with anything and it is not trafficking or smuggling as the tamils are all deemed to have sailed themselves here.

  • InSights

    The report has become polticized chatter. A pity. It has become a portal for spewing out anti Government sentiments thereby stimulating equally vituperous responses. The plight of the asylum seekers is now a mere side issue.

    I must say that there are many people (of non Sri Lankan origin) who found the report ‘MOVING’ and empathised not only with the asylum seekers but also with the Sri Lankan and Australian Governments. It’s a complex problem. This particular SBS report was in fact balanced and did not have the caveat’this report/images has/have not been independently verified’commonly heard in reports with an anti-Government twist.

    At least in THIS instance it is not the media that is exploiting the suffering of people and attempting to gain ‘mileage’ out of it.

  • Mark Davis

    Cheap shots in = cheap shots out. Especially if you want to play it in public. I have nothing but concern and sympathy for the plight of the Tamils.  I wasn’t there to make a story about war atrocities or corrupt governments – plenty of people do that and I could too at a future time.  I was interested in why people are leaving and why now. The comments I used were indicative of at least 50 other interviews and confidential discussions I had with Tamils who were leaving or who were working for the Tamil cause. I am not going to lie about what they said or exclude their commentary to suit a pre written script. I found their analysis of why people wish to leave subtle, valid and nuanced. I am not undermining any other reputable accounts.

    For the record I do believe a Member of Parliament, elected by the Tamil population of his region, to be a legitimate spokesperson to be interviewed – without any snide asides.


    • Suvendrini Perera

      Hi Mark,
      You write: “I wasn’t there to make a story about war atrocities or corrupt governments – plenty of people do that and I could too at a future time. I was interested in why people are leaving and why now.” My point is that the two things are deeply interrelated: You can’t separate why people are leaving from the conditions in which they live, and from which they seek to escape, for themselves and their children. This is the crux of the matter.
      Since when is it “snide” to point out that politicians have histories, particular political investments, ideologies? Australian journalists do this as a matter of course with our own politicians. It’s a question of providing context so that listeners have some basis on which to judge the statements that are made – this is even more important when the primary audience is in another country.
      I’m at a loss as to why you find it so objectionable that I responded publicly to the Dateline story. I am a Sri Lankan- Australian with a long-standing interest in refugee issues. Why shouldn’t I be entitled to put forward my views, here or there? BTW, I tried three times to upload my letter on the SBS website and finally sent it to the Dateline email address.
      What I wrote was a serious critique, supported by evidence from reputable sources. I did not take any cheap shots because the issues are too important to me.
      Finally, I’m a cultural theorist, not a media academic, but if I did teach media I would advise students to maintain a critical distance from members of dodgy regimes at all times. Journalists of all ethnicities have been subjected to threats, harassment, imprisonment, and worse, under the present regime — thereby contributing to precisely the psychic and political conditions that those who feel most disempowered in this society seek to escape. I would want journalists, especially those protected by foreign passports, to speak truth to power, not exchange pleasantries with it.

    • rita

      Mark Davis is keen on finding out ”why people are leaving and why now”. But the ”question of providing context” is of paramount importance and in the case of Sri Lanka the familial rule of Rajapakses makes everything extremely complex and opaque.

      Not only Mark Davis and many other journalists but also social scientists have a vast material for research.

  • K T Kumaran

    Professor Suvendrini Perera,

    Thank you for pointing out about ‘reckless’ Australian Journalism.

    There has been enough of dastardly news coverage by several Australian media outlets at various intervals, tailor made to suit Australian interests on Sri Lanka – Tamil matters.

    This is just one of them.

    For those thinking that Australia did the ‘right thing’ in showing Tamils fleeing looking for ‘better future’ – just dont forget coverage when Hambantota bidding for Commonwealth Games was on.

    The vast coverage on Sri Lanka that began during Perth Commonwealth Summit of October 2011 appears to have had only one thing in mind. The Australian media swamped the airwaves unprecedentedly with all sorts of negative coverage on Sri Lanka since then and leading upto the Nov 2011 Commonwealth Games bidding race. From Sri Lanka ‘war atrocities’ to potential inability to make adequate preparations in time for the Games and of negative light on the ‘middle of no where’ Hambantotan still trying to recover from 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami!

    Most of the coverage Australia revolved around nothing but ‘resource poor’ Sri Lanka is somewhat subservient to nothing else but ‘resource rich’ Australia.

    The final vote may have done favor to Sri Lankan tax payer, nevertheless the guise of the coverage sure had a large element of ensuring a win for economically struggling Gold Coast.

    Let the patriotic Australians defend their national borders and interests but please do not do it at the expense of making matters by unscrupulous methods, this includes appeasing the current Rajapaksa family tyrannical regime in Sri Lanka.

  • K T Kumaran

    I also like to add that when Australian media trying to highlight the dangers of travelling to Australia by Boats and discouraging such travel is a good thing.

    I believe by travelling to remote places in East etc. the Australian journalists have shown the local people their ‘concern’ and seriousness of the issue in taking that sort of a boat journey. However, a much more clearer picture could have been let aired, regarding the post war situation and continuing livelihood threats.

    It is also ‘interesting’ to see that a clip about potential gov involvement in people leaving being aired; perhaps Australian intelligence ‘suspects’ that its quite possible.

  • Citizen

    Most countries of the world are the result of migration over thousands of years. Newly founded countries like US and Australia were colonized by the British a few centuries back.

    In the distant past feudal kingdoms existed and there were no fixed boudaries or borders. These were changed from time to time due to wars and other natural events. People moved about and settled as they wished.

    Nowadays people who are themselves the descendants of migrants feel that the door should be shut to others except for those whom they perceive as superior human beings by virtue of their education, race, colour or religon; who they feel would be an asset to the coutry. Even within countries certain segments who managed to get in later are looked down upon and are subject to discrimination as third class citizens.

    So ultimately it is the poor suffering humanity who are discriminated in their own lands as well as in the Utopias of the West. The West continues to dominate the developing countries by fuelling unrest, wars, plundering their natural wealth and resources, imposing sanctions etc. So these boat people are symptomatic of a wider problem facing humanity; the unequal sharing of resources of planet earth. They are literally between the devil and the deep blue sea.

  • Hela

    Suvendrini Perera’s response is an extremely biased diatribe. Especially the attempts to digress in to other areas like corruption (which is by the way not only unique to Sri Lanka), and equating elected peoples’ representatives to LTTE terrorists is quite pathetic.

    If those boat people are fleeing persecution then Tamil Nadu has to be the most logical destination as TN has the most sympathetic population including it’s political leadership in addition to the proximity especially from safety point of view.

    Refugee migrations are a complex global issue requiring humane responses at global level. There are many reasons in this acutely inequal world why such migrations take place & required responses are much more fundamental & enlightened.

    Suvendrini with such intellectual credentials should not use the plight of refugees to further the obvious hateful anti govt political agenda.

  • Sathasivam Sivaraja

    Thank you Mark Davis for your unbiased interview !!

    Thank for telling the truth and upholding high journalistic standards !!

    The Tamils in Sri Lanka are oppressed minority and their hearts are bleeding…

    Sri Lankan govt. boasts unprecedented economic development, in the North and the East, at ground level there is nothing tangible for the survival of Tamil people to earn a living or a house to live.

    Therefore is it surprising that hoards of people, young and old, male and female, including children take a chance on these boats knowing very well of the dangers, that possibly none might reach their destination, yet take the chance.

    From Tamil’s point of view, they are so desperate, that it makes no difference because remaining in Sri Lanka there is no hope and things will be getting only worse perhaps to the level of modern day slavery

    At least taking a chance is well worth it, as it will give an opportunity for them to be free and treated like a human beings in Australia if they succeed the journey.

    So is it any wonder that boat loads are leaving this country of their birth for the generous manner how the Rajapaksa Govt. has reposed it’s faith in the masses in the North and the East. 🙂

    While all this happens in the North and the East with no opportunity for the people to live a decent life, we see the govt. spending and wasting billions of rupees otherwise on foreign trips by the Head of State with his goons and lackeys .

    Building Car Race Tracks for the first family siblings.

    Spending on various elections, before schedule time to hood wink the masses to show they are popular still.

    On unsuccessful bids of World Sporting events.

    On white elephant projects like Mihin Lanka, Hambanthota Port, Cricket Grounds, and Air Ports without a return.

    Errecting massive bill-boards larger than life size, all over the country to show the magnitude of “Development” undertaken and on massive frauds as revealed in the recent CSE.

    It is a damn disgrace for the Sri Lankan Govt.of MR’s, for it’s citizens to leave their country of birth for a desperate and dangerous sea voyage in the flimsy ships to find some place on earth to live peacefully.

  • Ward

    There have been many reports in the last 2/3 yrs on how the LTTE cadres released from detention have been hounded in all possible ways. The latest:

    “The main problem for us is that every day the police and the army come to our houses and check for former LLTE cadres. They take many former LTTE carders away for questioning. Now what has happened is that our youth have started to leave the country” – http://groundviews.org/2012/08/27/public-perceptions-of-the-llrc-in-trincomalee/

    After the PTA was introduced, Tamil youths have been arbitrarily arrested and kept in prisons without charges for up to 20 yrs (LLRC submissions by retired Sinhalese civil servants).

    There have been reports how Tamils have been having difficulty coming and staying in Colombo in preparation to go abroad by plane. Some of them even led to extrajudicial killings and white van abductions not only in Colombo but also in the East.

    Even Sri Lankans cannot grapple with the multifacets of the Rakapakse rule. How can foreigners manage?

    The following has so much for several doctoral theses:

    ”Sri Lanka has a model to offer the world. Not the ‘anti-terrorism’ model President Mahinda Rajapakse’s administration is assiduously peddling. Rather, this is a model of political marketing, an ‘all you need to know’ crash course in building innocuous facades to hide insalubrious realities. The old saying suggests that all the people cannot be fooled all the time. But, as the Rajapakses have proven, fooling all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time can more than suffice” –

  • anbu

    I have just ordered some of your books for our library at work.. cant wait to read.
    Anbu in OZ

  • Happy Heathen

    ” The program of Sinhalisation and militant Buddhism now underway in Sri Lanka (including recent attacks on a Mosque) were not even mentioned, nor was the corruption within the ruling family and the sense of impunity with which it operates, as evidenced by the continuing disappearances of government critics (of all ethnic groups)”

    …..hmmm this is coming from a person who has been ostensibly educated by the poor people of Sri Lanka (might I say majority has been Sinhalese Buddhists) and then fled to green pastures to demonise the very people who funded her up to her graduate level.
    Of course you have to!! otherwise how can you justify your existence and the trailer loads of pseudo researches you have carried out over the years if not for the existence of racist Sinhala Buddhist yakkas in Sri Lanka. Would a catholic theologian accept the existence of Mahound? Can good exist without evil?

    What’s more ironic is that she is now living in a country who subjugates, enslaved and slaughtered the entire indigenous population not to mention the participation of genocidal wars against Vietnamese, Iraqis and Afghans.

    I didn’t recall Suvendrini writing about the plight of Aboriginal people in Australia due to white colonization.

    Hypocrisy seems to be the name of the game.

    BTW Leviticus also states..
    “And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me; Then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins. And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat.
    (Leviticus 26:27-31 King James Version)

    Apparently there is Tamil meat for sale in Colombo.

    What about the droves of Sinhalse Catholics who went on boats to Italy in 80s-90s from west coast? Sinhalization? Buddhist Chauvinists? Genocide? Bubonic Plague?……..

    [Edited out] like Suvendrini seems to be dime a dozen.

    • Happy Heathen, since you call your self so, what right have you to quote or rather twist and ‘misquote’ the Words of a Holy God,who cares very much,for the helpless?

      To the those who risk life and limb to cross the seas with their families, life as it is a living death- they really don’t mind the risk.

      As Mr.Sivarajah says,’their hearts are bleeding’.

      But I don’t suppose those of us who have 3 meals a day and live in cosy, secure homes and have a fairly normal life can understand all that?

      • Happy Heathen


        I have NO intention of getting in to a protracted debate on the existence of an imaginary God with you as this is neither the place nor the time. Furthermore I don’t think you have the intellectual capacity to understand my argument. (judging by your comment)

        However, I’ll ask you one simple question, do you believe in Vishnu, or Ganesh, or Thor, or Athena?

        My contention was how it is possible for Suvendrini to appreciate a bronze-age fairytale (i.e. Leviticus) that condones slavery, homophobia, racism, and sexism while depicting herself as a liberal intellectual?

  • Chaminda Silva

    Dear Mark,

    Well presented truth about SL and Tamils. I am very sympathatic on their plight.

    Mrs.Perera’s comments were based on ‘reports’ and ‘evidence’ from ‘well-respected’ organisations. Everyone knows the duplicity of so called organisation. Mrs.Perera trying to get some limelight in vain.

    MR is not corrupt but the company this is the paradox of any country.

    Well done Mark, great work.

    The Independent

  • Mohan

    Mrs Perera is confused. Thank you Mark for a very unbiased report. As you said this was a program highlighting the asylum issue.

  • Simon

    Hi Mrs.,
    I think the documentary was balanced and showing the reality that you might don’t want to accept.
    All media outlets in Australia has been LTTE sympathisers for last few decades.
    People are now seen that there is a truth to what GOSL has been saying.
    Yes government is corrupt.
    People like you who has a closed mind and educating others to hate Sinhalese people is making the situation get worst.
    Time to let go of your ideologies and move on.
    Let the people in SL enjoy the freedom and live without a fear.
    I live in Jaffa and I have no fear now.
    But it took years for me to come out from that

  • To answer your ‘one simple question’ – please look for clues in the Book of Leveticus.

  • Canaga

    Mark Davis – you have done your job as a journalist – the desire is to make it watchable by all. After seeing your first one – I did not! The truths of it matters little to most! Very unforunate that the desire to make it watchable by most seem to be the aim of this one too – is this not?
    The result is various discussions as above aspects matters little, to one’s life in Sri Lanka today, particularly the trodden ones.
    If only an introductive piece is added to this it would have been very understandable.
    SriLanka when it was Ceylon, was very well developing and with well educated people – Lee Kuan Yu when he seperated from Malaysia, said in his independence day speech – if he could raise the level of Singapore to that of Ceylon, he would be happy! Besides, in those days when people go to India they take cocoanut oil, soap, etc to sell in India, where it is costly or not readily available.
    What state is Ceylon – now SriLanka, today? Why did this happen? My view is that this was only due to “Power hungry Politics’ and ‘Racial Politics”, which has pervaded the life of almost all politicians.
    At time of independence Northern Province was 99% Tamils and the East was 66%Tamil speaking – today? The obvious choice then was Federal system of Government as in many countries – Switzerland is a good example – 18 cantoons now – created after a bitter dispute between the three linguistc groups.
    This is what SJV Chelva….. fought for, very peacefully for 25 years, and SWERD Banda…. advocated this in many articles – Had it happened Ceylon would have been a very prosperous nation today.
    Racial politics had ruined the country, the younger generation has been fully indoctrinated and nothing will change, until the country
    decimates – unfortunately.

    Now coming to the subject matter – why are they leaving the country in such a dangerous journey? WHY DOES NOT MARK DWELL ON THIS MORE?
    The trodden people have to get out somehow – to avoid rape and killing. They sell whatever they have, collect the money and get out as soon as possible. Some of them have lost their lands and property to the army – no one living in Colombo can understand this.
    The next question is why not India – There are many thousands living there in unhospitable conditions and cannot work – but survive on what is handed out to them. Is this the desire of human beings? Do they not want to work or study? Would any of the above comentators live like that?
    Where can you go to live and work with the others in a stable place – why did all those who are commenting do this?
    Would any one writing so much on this be prepared to do a even a one day journey like this in a leaky boat in the high seas? These trodden people have no alternatives but to take this journey.
    It is even unfortunately mentioned that even some corrupt politicaians are taking money and asisting these poor people to take this perilous journey.
    Mark could have anlaysed these aspects along with his storey – so we could understand the plight of these people and why they are doing it.
    Australia has its limitations – so it has to stop this illegal migration. If so, it should have acted to help limit this corrupt politics of these countries and assisted in developing the countries so people can live and work, rather than allow them to migrate here.
    I would very strongly encourage all these readers to consider this PLEASE.

  • ‘No one living in Colombo can understand this’.

    Just thinking..what if it was me and my family in the aforementioned circumstances?

  • Canaga

    In short, where aspects fail is the need for a very short introduction to the struggle the Tamils of Sri Lanka and resulting problems:
    1. A large number of Tamils have lost their lands and houses – now occupied by the armed forces. Thousands are still living in open grounds, sun or rain.
    2. The SL Tamils have been gradually “diminished” by the successive SL governments – both major parties are responsible – to seek power.
    3. Worst was the 1983 massacre of the Tamils. Many were massacared by the hooligan attitude of the racial mobs. They had to ’emigrate’ to Jaffna by ships.
    4. Very peaceful negotiations by the Federal party continued for more than 25 years – each time an agreement was signed with the suucessful major party of the time to secure power in parliament and control, the agreement was torn up within three months once the party secured power and formed a government.
    5. This was the reason of the “boys” taking to arms, when peace by all means failed.
    6. Why not look at what happened in South Africa, Palestine/Israel, Ireland – any different? IRA also was ruthless in its attacks, but finally settled for peace, after killing the Queen’s uncle – Lord Mountbatten and nearly killed Margret Thatcher by bombing her bed room at the Conservative party conference in Southampton (?).
    7. So why blame the LTTE as terrorists? President Bush created the problem, when LTTE was only confined to Sri Lanka.

    Having said all this, the media should be more factual – and not highlight the wrong end of the problem, and ‘decieve’ us in Australia.
    They are not coming to live at our expense, study and enjoy life.
    Give them a chance and treat them equally. If they fail give them the punishemnet and send them back if needed.
    Let us know the truth.

  • Canaga

    Ravana has well described, except in the latter part of the letter, he “blames” LTTE.
    Ravana, all political means by the Federal Party in a ‘Gandhian way’ failed and resulted in the Federal party giving up and began the LTTE way, unfortunately.
    In 1983 the state terrorism was the worst, and resulted in Tamils being terrorised by Government supported thugs. The Tamils lost their property and some were burnt inside locked cars in which they were travelling – it was unbelievable – no honest buddhist layman could have done such a horrible action, and it went on for four days, with the government doing nothing to stop it. If this was not state sponsored terrorism, has LTTE done any so called ‘terrorism’ to any where near that level?
    In SriLanka, only racial politics succeeds, and the politicians are used to it and come to power by their use of it. They care damn to the Tamils. Just like IRA and others LTTE was the only hope the Tamils had.