Thursday, March 01, 2007

Human Rights in Australia: why asylum seekers may come from Sri Lanka

I watched Insiders last Sunday and heard that fount of knowledge on International affairs, Andrew Bolt, say Sri Lanka is one of the last countries that should be taken seriously as a source of refugees. I can't remember his exact words as most of his proffering is unintelligible.

I thought I would check what DFAT's website has to say on the savage civil conflict that has been raging in Sri Lanka since 1983. Following is an excerpt:

"Despite the failure of past attempts to negotiate a durable peace settlement, in February 2002 the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE signed an agreement for an indefinite ceasefire. Supervised by a small peace monitoring mission led by Norway, the ceasefire resulted in the gradual return of a degree of normalcy across the country. Security restrictions in government-controlled areas were eased, freedom of movement of people and goods to the north and east increased, and fishing restrictions for the Tamil population in the north were relaxed. Six rounds of peace talks were held between September 2002 and April 2003 when the LTTE suspended participation mainly due to its dissatisfaction with the pace of progress towards granting interim regional autonomy in the north and east.

The ceasefire came under mounting pressure in 2004, following a split between the eastern and northern ‘wings’ of the LTTE, violence between the two, and allegations by the LTTE leadership of government involvement in the split and threats of a return to war. The then Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar, was assassinated on 12 August 2005 in Colombo. Despite this assassination, the Sri Lankan Government reiterated its commitment to the ceasefire agreement with the LTTE.

In December 2005 and January 2006, there was an escalation in violence, including attacks by the LTTE in the north and east in which at least 60 members of the security forces were killed

The Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE met in Geneva in February 2006 for talks on the implementation of the ceasefire agreement. However further surges in violence in April and May led to the cancellation of talks scheduled to take place in Geneva in April. Since then, there has been a further escalation in the violence with a number of LTTE attacks including suicide attacks in Colombo. Sri Lankan armed forces have mounted aerial and ground attacks on LTTE positions in the east and north, and have captured Vakarai in the east. According to the UN, around 200,000 civilians have been displaced and are living in refugee camps in Sri Lanka’s north-east. The immediate prospects for a resumption of peace talks appear to be diminishing."

Within two minutes of doing some additional research on the situation in Sri Lanka I uncovered several major areas of concern for Tamil people that could lead to asylum being sought in countries that observe international refugee law and convention, such as Australia.

On 24 January 2007 Human Rights Watch released a report on child and youth abductions: "With the complicity or willful blindness of the Sri Lankan government, the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of children in eastern Sri Lanka...The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has documented more than 200 cases of child recruitment by the Karuna group in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts, where the group is active. But the real number is certainly much higher due to underreporting.

Children are not the only targets. Human Rights Watch found that the Karuna group has abducted and forcibly recruited hundreds of young men between ages 18 and 30. Human Rights Watch knows of only two cases in which the Karuna group abducted girls. It generally targets poor families, and often those who have already had a child recruited by the Tamil Tigers."

In another area of the HRW site I found a short piece that sums up the response of those calling for a hard-line on the Sri Lankan refugees:

"Refugees and asylum seekers are often victims of repeated racism. Once they flee their countries to escape racism and ethnic intolerance, then they often are unable to find safety because of governments' xenophobic and exclusionary immigration policies. Those who do are frequently subject to racist and xenophobic treatment in their countries of refuge, and millions are unable to return to their own countries because of racial and ethnic discrimination."

Back in 2005 I wrote that we "are looking more and more like a xenophobic client state of the US, an uncompassionate society ready to disbelieve the legitimate claims of asylum seekers who didn’t stand in a non-existent queue of orderly people waiting for whichever repressive regime they are escaping to allow them to migrate. The silliness of this position overwhelms me at times."

When will Australia re-discover its true values of a fair go, decency and a larrikin disregard for the narrow-minded bigots of this world?

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