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.