Refugee Action Coalition NSW media release A year ago, then prime Minister Kevin Rudd called Indonesian President Yudhoyono requesting that the Indonesian navy intercept a boat carrying 254 Tamil asylum seekers to Australia. The boat was the subject of international attention after the asylum seekers refused to disembark at Merak in Indonesia. In April 2010, the asylum seekers were forcibly removed to Tanjung Pinang detention centre. Except for two families shifted to detention in Medan, all the Tamils remain in appalling conditions in Tanjung Pinang.
On July 21, the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth published an interview with Donald Perera, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to Israel. Perera, the former Sri Lankan Air Force commander and Chief of Defence Staff, thanked Israel profusely for its support in the fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
On April 9, the Australian Labor Party government, then led by Kevin Rudd, imposed a three-month suspension of the processing of refugees from Sri Lanka. On July 6, the Labor government of PM Julia Gillard announced, in the context of unveiling its pre-election tougher stance against refugees, that the suspension would not be extended.
More than a year after its victory over the pro-independence Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the Sri Lankan Army (SLA) continues to hold large areas of land in the predominantly Tamil north and east of Sri Lanka as “high security zones” (HSZ). Many of the Tamil inhabitants who were evicted from these areas to create the HSZs during the decades-long war are still unable to return to their homes.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced on June 22 the formation of a three-member panel to advise him on whether Sri Lanka committed crimes during the last months of its war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, Reuters said that day.
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.
Hundreds of Tamils turned out in Sydney’s Martin Place on May 18 to mark the first anniversary of the Sri Lankan army’s capture of the last bit of land held by the pro-independence Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in the north-east of the country. In driving rain, families lined up to place petals in front of a statue of a grieving mother. They heard from community speakers, the Greens, the Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) and the Socialist Alliance.
A May 17 International Crisis Group report said there were “reasonable grounds to believe the Sri Lankan security forces committed war crimes with top government and military leaders potentially responsible” in the last five months of the 30 year long war against Tamil independence fighters. The report cited the intentional shelling of civilians, hospitals and humanitarian operations.
More than 350 people participated at the human ring in Sydney on May 8 and urged Australian government to be a lifesaver and protect refugees. They called the politicians not to score political points by punishing the most desperate of people. Amnesty International Australia organized the human ring at Bondi Beach to show the politicians on all sides that they’ve got it wrong — Australians do care about saving lives and they won't accept punishment of people to win votes. There were also speeches by human rights activists at the event.
Over April 17-18, Tamils across Australia voted overwhelmingly in favour of the formation of an independent and sovereign homeland — Tamil Eelam — in the north and east of Sri Lanka. In what was described by organisers as “the most successful political event for the diaspora in Australia”, 99.38% of participants voted “yes”.