Report slams Tamil visa freeze

A May 18 Tamil commemoration rally in Federation Square, Melbourne. Photo: Sue Bolton.

Tamil and refugee rights groups have demanded the Rudd government reverse its suspension of refugee claims from Sri Lanka. This follows the release of an international report that provided more evidence that the decision to suspend the claims was based on a lie.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) released War Crimes in Sri Lanka on May 17, a report into the Sri Lankan Army’s assault on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and the entire Tamil population in the country’s north and east between January and May last year.

The report contains extensive evidence that the Sri Lankan military committed war crimes, and massacred tens of thousands of Tamil men, women and children located in safe zones.

The ICG’s findings also confirm the claims of Tamil and human rights groups around the world that the atrocities were carried out with “top government and military leaders potentially responsible”.

By contrast, there is no evidence to support the Australian government’s illegal visa freeze. In fact, news of atrocities and government-sanctioned abuse continue to emerge.

Tamil activists have told GLW the situation remains dangerously unsafe for Tamil civilians. Abductions, disappearances and torture continue, including cases of refugees returned from Indonesia and Australia.

Phil Glendenning, from the Edmund Rice Centre, told SBS World News on May 19 that Tamil refugees returned to Sri Lanka in the past year have faced government persecution.

"Some of them are taken to prison, some of them have been assaulted”, he said. “We know [one] man has lost his hearing, one man has had sight damage. Some of them remain in prison where they are not represented.

“And we think that returning people to this situation is seriously exposing them to danger and therefore in breach of Australia's international obligations.”

Even Australia’s own travel advice warns against visiting Sri Lanka due to the “volatile security situation”.

Despite evidence Tamil people are seeking asylum legitimately, they (and Afghans) have been singled out by the Australian government so it can appear tough on refugees.

On April 9, the Australian government suspending the processing of new asylum claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan for three and six months in response to allegations, led by the Liberal/National opposition, it was “soft” on refugees.

It cited the “evolving” situation in Sri Lanka — referring to national elections and the “resettlement” of displaced Tamils — as reason for the decision.

But Tamil and refugee rights groups have attacked this claim as false and called on the Australian government to end the visa freeze and stop Tamil deportations.

The Australian government’s treatment of refugees has been condemned domestically and internationally.

On April 27, a joint statement signed by more than 47 organisations in 18 countries — including Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia — said Australia was violating the refugee convention and other key human rights treaties.

It said Australia’s suspension policy “plainly violates Australia’s human rights obligations, and may inflict irreparable psychological harm upon Afghan and Sri Lankan asylum seekers — many of whom are likely to be refugees and survivors of torture and trauma”.

“In singling out Afghan and Sri Lankan nationals for asylum suspension and indefinite mandatory detention, the Suspension Policy violates Article 3 of the Refugee Convention, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of a refugee’s country of origin.

“There is no objective and reasonable justification for the singling out of these nationalities.”

[To read the ICG War Crimes in Sri Lanka report, visit www.crisisgroup.org/en.aspx.]