The Daily Telegraph slammed those so-called asylum seekers once more on October 11 in a hard hitting front page expose by Gemma Jones entitled “Sell house and sail away to better lives”. Jones wrote: “Sri Lanka's navy revealed that most of the 2279 people arrested leaving on 52 boats this year from 24 locations were 'economic migrants' looking for a better life in Australia.”
Because I am sure we can all agree that representatives of a genocidal military force widely condemned by human rights groups for crimes against humanity are a perfectly respectable source to splash quotes from to demonise those seeking to escape said military's human rights abuses.
I did have some trouble getting my head around the argument Jones was seeking to make. She wrote: “Electricians, security guards, government workers and businessmen were among a wave of middle-class asylum seekers caught leaving Sri Lanka by boat.”
Now, I admit, I don't really expect much from this Murdoch tabloid, but usually, in its vile appeals to irrational, deep-seated racist fears to demonise desperate people, there is at least some discernible logic. But the only thing I can conclude from this strange jumble is the editor has had a stroke and no one has noticed.
Because, surely, if the asylum seekers are middle class, wouldn't that actually be an argument against them being “economic refugees”? Wouldn't the “economic refugee” line actually make more sense if they were poor?
Wouldn't the fact they already have a relative level of economic security actually be a strong pull against selling their homes to risk their life on overcrowded boats to be jailed indefinitely in isolated prison camps that breed despair, mental illness and self-harm?
And, therefore, might there not be some other factors driving them to take this route?
You know, there is a word not mentioned once in Jones' article, see if you can guess what it is. I'll give you a clue: it starts with “T”, is six letters long, is the name of a violently oppressed ethnic minority in Sri Lanka and the last five letters are “amils”.
In May 2009, the Sri Lankan army was accused of slaughtering at least 30,000 Tamil people in the final weeks of a civil war. In the aftermath, hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians were held in internment camps.
The government, accused of routinely “disappearing” and torturing opponents, is now carrying out ethnic cleansing in the island's largely Tamil north-east by settling members of the Sinhalese majority on stolen Tamil land.
Fleeing this sounds a bit more of a likely reason to spend your life savings and jump on a boat than some aspirational government employee desperate to enjoy the boundless prosperity of a prison camp on Nauru.
Otherwise we are left to conclude that no one with a job could ever have a reason to seek asylum. Unless there is something particular in the professions Jones lists that makes their claims of persecution utterly ridiculous, and if only our immigration officials weren't such bleeding hearts they'd laugh and say: “Really? Now a plumber, they're always getting tortured. But an electrician? Pull the other one mate.”