"One quarter of a million people are trapped between a concentration camp and a war zone", said Nish Vivekananthan, a young Tamil speaking on the current situation in Sri Lanka, at a public meeting on February 19 in Footscray.
Vivekananthan was referring to the detention centres set up by for the Sri Lankan Army. The Sri Lankan government says it will be compulsory for people fleeing the area to live in the "welfare villages".
Anmesty International has accused the army of taking hostages by allowing people to leave the camps only if a relative stays behind. People in north-east Sri Lanka have been carpet-bombed and the Red Cross safe zone has been repeatedly bombed, along with five hospitals in the last fortnight.
The meeting included a screening of The Cold Hard Truth, a harrowing compilation of recent footage from Tamils in the conflict zone, uploaded to relatives elsewhere in the world through the internet. The only other coverage from the conflict zone is from journalists escorted by the military.
The meeting was also addressed by Rob Stary, the criminal defence lawyer for Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan, who are in jail charged with collecting humanitarian aid for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE]. The Australia Federal Police allege that the LTTE is a terrorist organisation and that, therefore, it is illegal to collect money of its behalf.
By the time their court case finishes, Vinayagamoorthy and Yathavan will have been in jail for two years. Stary said, "the government might as well charge the other 33,000 Tamils in Australia, many of whom view the LTTE as their representative organisation, which supports their aspirations of national liberation".
Stary stressed that the LTTE is not a proscribed organisation under Australia's anti-terrorism laws. "Charges were laid at the behest of the Sri Lankan government and have nothing to do with the Australian community."
Stary noted that the government has not charged other representatives of national liberation movements in Australia such as Kosova or Tibet. Nor has it charged representatives of Israel for its attacks on Lebanon and Palestine. He noted that there were attempts to scare the Tamil community from attending the meeting on the basis that it supported self-determination for the Tamils.