Brami Jegan, a young campaigner for social justice who is standing for the Greens in the New South Wales Senate, is very critical of the ALP’s policies on asylum seekers and the war in Afghanistan.
Jegan told Green Left Weekly she understands the challenges migrant communities face in settling in this country. She also had first-hand experience of the devastating impacts of war. “During my visits back to Sri Lanka between 2002-2006, I was able to spend time with Tamils affected by the war.”
Green leader Bob Brown has called for a parliamentary debate on Australia's involvement in the war in Afghanistan. Jegan said: “The Greens are going into this election fighting very strongly to have our troops brought safely home from Afghanistan.”
She said it is “inexcusable” that the federal government has not lifted the freeze on processing asylum seekers from Afghanistan. “If Afghanistan is so safe, why are Australian forces there and why are they dying?”
Asked about the ALP’s lurch to the right on asylum seekers, Jegan said: “When Kevin Rudd was PM, Patrick McGorry, Australian of the Year, told a World Refugee Day rally in Melbourne that there had been a ‘failure of leadership’ on this issue.
“I don’t think this has changed one bit.”
The Greens have pledged to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake of asylum seekers to 20,000. The party wants to close all detention centres and believes asylum seekers who arrive without a valid visa should have their claims for asylum assessed while living in the community.
The Greens also want to set up an $8 million grants-based Asylum-Seeker Support Fund, over four years, to help community organisations in providing essential services for refugees and asylum-seekers.
I asked Jegan her thoughts on the ALP government’s attitude towards Tamils fleeing to Australia as a result of the Sri Lankan government's war against them. She said that although some Labor MPs had been sympathetic, she didn’t think the party had made much effort to understand the Tamil community’s grievances.
“There was a real opportunity for leadership within the region, but the Australian government chose to put its trade relations before human rights”, she said.
During the civil war in Sri Lanka, which killed up to 40,000 Tamils in north eastern Sri Lanka last year, many Tamil-Australians who had been pressuring the Australian government to act for justice, began to look for ways to continue their campaign for Tamil justice.
One expression of this is the advocacy group “Tamils for Greens”, which was formed some months before the elections were called.
Asked what she thinks Australia could do to help Tamils rebuild their lives in Sri Lanka, Jegan said it should join an international effort to actively push for an independent war crimes investigation into the carnage in Sri Lanka during 2009.
“It’s very important that the Australian government puts pressure on the government of Sri Lanka to release the tens of thousands of Tamils we believe are still locked up in government-run camps.
“In the long term, it is imperative that all people in Sri Lanka are treated equally and are equally and freely represented in parliament. Without justice there is not going to be any peace in Sri Lanka.”