About 50 members of Melbourne’s Tamil community and supporters gathered outside Casselden Place this evening (Friday) to demand the Australian Government process the claims of the recently-arrived Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Australia and abandon any plans to deport them to Sri Lanka or remove them to Nauru:
The meeting, organised by the Melbourne branch of the Anti-deportation Alliance, was addressed by a succession of speakers, starting with Suniya of the local Tamil community, and including two overseas visitors, a unionist and Workers Party activist from New Zealand and a social worker from Germany. Both gave grim pictures of the treatment of asylum seekers in their respective regions, especially recent developments towards Europe’s own equivalent of Australia’s infamous Pacific Solution. Liz Thompson, who introduced the speakers, referred to the recent report of the UNHCR (http://www.unhcr.org/home/RSDLEGAL/4590fl2a4.pdf -[no longer accessible, but see http://www.refworld.org/docid/459a1fcb2.html *]) released three months ago, which gives the lie to the recent claim of the visiting Sri Lankan ambassador to Jakarta, backed up apparently by the Australian Government, that these young Tamils will not be persecuted if returned: “Major-General Janaka Perera is considered by both Amnesty International and the UN to be responsible for the disappearance of thousands of Tamils during his period as Jaffna Commander” (from a leaflet issued by ADA. The leaflet also quoted a recent letter to The Age from Bruce Haigh, printed 26 February: “The Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration are breaking international law by returning Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Sri Lanka … As they and the Minister for Foreign Affairs will be aware, the Sinhalese Government has for some months conducted sustained and ruthless attacks against the Tamil minority in the north of the country …” Bruce Haigh, a former diplomat in both Indonesia and Sri Lanka, was a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal from 1995-2000.)
(It now appears unlikely that the Australian Government will carry through with its original plan to return the asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, either directly or by offloading them to Indonesia, and speakers attributed this in no small part to the weight of public pressure exerted over the last few days. Now it looks as if they may end up being left to rot on Nauru – if not kept on Christmas Island in the existing facility until they can enjoy the dubious distinction of being the first inmates of the high-tech hell-hole rapidly nearing completion there.)
Amongst other speakers were Peter Job, Greens spokesperson on refugee affairs, who sketched some of his own experiences as an advocate for Sri Lankans in Australia, condemning the ‘Pacific solution’ as “a total breach of all international obligations”, while now the move was to a blanket refusal altogether, ending “if this were World War II, they [the present government] would be sending Jews back to the Holocaust”; Manrico, representing Australia Asia Workers Link, who emphasised the Australian Government’s shared responsibility along with other governments in the world of global capitalism for the creation of masses of dispossessed and impoverished people with no choice but to seek a better life elsewhere. The Australian Government had a particular responsibility by virtue of its support for the ‘insane policies of the US to solve problems by dropping bombs.’ These people are not seeking refuge because of a natural disaster but as a consequence of the policies of governments, which must therefore take responsibility for them: “… in every country people are being pushed away from their houses and their jobs by policies that are totally destructive, discriminatory, insensitive and […] criminal. These policies are policies of war and policies of economic exploitation. this is not happening like the [?] that doesn’t happen or happens; this is not like an earthquake. These are decisions of governments …”; and Tim Petterson of the Refugee Action Collective, who outlined the offshore processing system. (RAC and the Asylum Seekers Resource Centre are holding a public meeting at the end of March to publicise the new detention centre on Christmas Island, a plan of which can be seen in the photo below…)
From the media release:
Last week, the Australian Navy intercepted a boat carrying 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers off the coast of Australia, just near Christmas Island.
In a massive contravention of customary international law, human rights law, humanitarian law and Australia’s self-assumed treaty obligations, the Howard government has been engaged in negotiations with Indonesia to send the asylum seekers immediately back to Indonesia, which is not a signatory to the Refugees Convention, and which is likely to deport them.
According to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre:
These are young men, most of whom are aged 22 & 23 years, the oldest is 28 years;
Some have been held, tortured and beaten in Camps in Jaffna because they are Tamil(see http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2007/2/12541.html);
Their families raised the money to send them to safety in an attempt to save their lives;
Sri Lanka is in civil conflict (see http://www.amnesty.org.au/news_features/news/refugee/sri_lanka_560,000_displaced_people_suffer_effects_of_intensifying_violence);
It is too dangerous to send them to India because the Sri Lankan Navy sinks Tamil boats on the basis that they are all Tamil Tigers – not all are(see http://english.people.com.cn/200609/25/eng20060925_306127.html and http://www.colombopage.com/archive_07/February16140946CH.html);
If they are captured they are forced to serve in the Sri Lankan military fighting Tamils. Understandably they do not want to do this(see http://www.tamilnation.org/indictment/genocide95/gen9560.htm);
They came to Australia legitimately seeking asylum. Under the Refugees Convention to which we are signatory, Australia is obliged to receive them and assess their claims. They should be provided with legal advice and counselling immediately;
Many are traumatised from beatings and torture received in detention camps in Sri Lanka. They need counselling and legal advice.
(See also earlier posting by Pamela Curr: http://melbourne.indymedia.org/news/2007/03/141335.php)
– called on the Australian Government at least to give the asylum seekers protection visas until the peace process is resumed. Then, if it decides to deport some or all to Sri Lanka, it must assume responsibility for monitoring their safety … (Liz Thompson touched on this question later, referring to the case of an Afghan refugee sent to Nauru and subsequently deported back to Afghanistan, where he was killed within a week. According to Philip Ruddock, Minister at the time, it was not because he was a Hazari that he was killed, but because he had a shiny new motor bike …) (Government statements have reiterated again and again that ‘Australia’ accepts no obligation to even enquire into the subsequent fate of people deported.)
Surveillance – another view. Note the camera keeping watch:
Klaus from Germany took the mic at the end (not sure if blue-clad person in the left background is expressing an opinion …): “… so practically, although it is written in all European constitutions, there is no right of political asylum in Europe any more.”
“No human being is illegal!”