Again! Two Significant items in THE AUSTRALIAN on asylum seeker issues

I.                  Asylum system flooded but deportations slow to a trickle ….. by Paul Maley & Lauren Wilson, in The Australian, 31 July 2012

 Nicola Roxon

DEPORTATIONS of failed asylum-seekers have dried up as new arrivals flood the system in record numbers, causing a backlog the opposition warns will take a decade to clear.  Despite calls by foreign governments, including Sri Lanka, to return bogus refugees as a deterrent, fewer than 2 per cent of the 21,000 asylum-seekers who have arrived since 2008 have been deported. Head of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Australia Richard Towle said yesterday that there must be “meaningful consequences” for asylum-seekers whose refugee claims failed, arguing returns were essential to the integrity of any asylum system.

“You need a fair and accurate asylum process that identifies refugees and the return of those who don’t need protection,” he told The Australian. “The overall integrity of the asylum system needs both of those in play – the rights given to those who are refugees and the return of those who are not. Without returns, the integrity of the whole system is undermined.”

The comments follow a new record in boat arrivals, with the number of asylum-seekers arriving in the first seven months of this year exceeding the previous record of 6555 arrivals for all of 2010. Compounding the opposition’s warnings of a system backlog, a further two boats carrying 89 asylum-seekers and crew members were intercepted by Customs’ boats near Cocos Islands and Christmas Island yesterday. A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare said the passengers would be transferred to Christmas Island.

The surge has prompted the opposition to issue a stark warning about the legacy issues confronting the Coalition, should it win office at the next election.  Coalition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison predicted there could be between 10,000 and 15,000 asylum-seekers still in the system by next year, a bottleneck that could take a decade to clear the courts. “The system the government has been running means that by the time of the next election we could be looking at 10,000-15,000 people in the system, which could take a decade to resolve,” he said. “It’s a significant problem. We won’t be in a position to be able to assess the full impact of this until we are closer to an election.”

The warning drew a rebuke from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen, with a spokesman for the minister accusing the Coalition of hypocrisy. “The only way there will be a large backlog of asylum claims before the court will be if the Coalition and the Greens continue to vote against offshore processing,” the spokesman said. “Mr Morrison cannot have it both ways: he cannot straight-faced complain about the costs of onshore processing and then stop the government reintroducing offshore processing.”

According to Immigration Department figures, fewer than 1.5 per cent of asylum-seekers who have arrived in Australia since 2008 have been returned. Since the boats started coming in 2008, more than 20,700 asylum-seekers have arrived, but only 284 have been returned. Only 16 have been removed against their will. This year 22 people have been removed, compared with 74 last year.

In January last year, Mr Bowen unveiled an agreement between Australia, Afghanistan and the UNHCR that he promised would pave the way for the forced return of failed Afghan asylum-seekers, a process he predicted would begin by the end of this year. “There is now a mechanism to return people and people will be returned, I’m sure, during the course of this year where it is appropriate to do so,” Mr Bowen said at the time.

But 18 months after the pledge, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canberra, Nasir Ahmad Andisha, admitted not one Afghan had been forcibly returned. Asked whether the MOU had facilitated the return of any failed Afghan asylum-seekers, he said: “No, not yet.” He also repeated Afghanistan’s opposition to forced returns, saying Kabul’s preference was for voluntary, dignified returns that occurred at a pace that allowed the republic to cope.

 Dayan Anthony displays SL passport -courtesy of The Australian

The government’s job of returning failed asylum-seekers was made considerably more difficult by the High Court, which in November 2010 gave boatpeople the same appeal rights as onshore asylum-seekers. According to the government, that meant all decisions made before the November ruling had to be rechecked, slowing the returns process.

Currently, there are more than 10,400 asylum-seekers either in detention or living in the community whose refugee claims have yet to be finalised. With the rate of boat arrivals accelerating rapidly, more asylum-seekers are entering the system than leaving it.

Mr Towle said those who were found not to be refugees should be sent home in a safe and dignified manner. He said while removals could be difficult, controversial and painful, they should not, as a matter or principle, be opposed. “You won’t find the UNHCR standing in the way of it.” He said there must be “meaningful consequences” for those who were not found to be refugees. “If everybody who comes and claims asylum is allowed to stay, then of course the asylum system is undermined,” he said.

Sri Lanka, which has once again become a major source of boatpeople, has said deportations act as a powerful deterrent and has called on Canberra to return Sri Lankans whose refugee claims have been unsuccessful.

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II.Tamil returned after Sri Lanka complaint …. by Amanda Hodge, in the Australian, 31 July 2012

THE first Tamil man to be deported from Australia since the end of the Sri Lankan war was returned a week after Sri Lanka’s navy chief complained to Australia’s high commissioner of double standards in the treatment of Sinhalese and Tamil asylum-seekers.  The Australian has learned that a reported clash between High Commissioner Robyn Mudie and Vice-Admiral Somathilake Dissanayake at a July 18 meeting in Colombo was sparked by accusations the federal government’s favourable treatment of Tamils over Sinhalese was encouraging the continued movement of boats.

Tamil asylum-seeker Dayan Anthony had been in the care of his Melbourne-based sister and brother-in-law since December 2010 and his family have claimed that notice of his deportation, and his removal back into detention last week, came without warning. Senior Sri Lankan navy officials said yesterday they believed the conversation between the navy chief and the commissioner might have contributed to Mr Anthony’s deportation. Ms Mudie told The Australian yesterday she was unable to comment on official meetings.

 SLNS Samudra lands asylumseekers at Galle –Pic from The Australian

But a spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told The Australian yesterday that Mr Anthony’s removal had been “under way for weeks”. “These are very, very long processes. They do not happen in a matter of days. We need to get travel documents and flight clearances. We need to make sure the escorts are available. This is a removal that had been planned for many weeks.”

Sri Lankan navy operations director N. Attygalle confirmed to The Australian the navy chief had raised the issue with Ms Mudie at their meeting two weeks ago, where the two are also reported to have traded barbs over failures by both sides to fully co-operate to stamp out people-smuggling. “I am sure your high commissioner here in Colombo must have taken it seriously because it is the commander making the accusation,” Commodore Attygalle said yesterday. “Maybe that was one of a number of contributing factors (that led to his deportation).”

But Commodore Attygalle added that the federal government still needed to show more mettle on returning failed Tamil asylum-seekers, and that deporting just one man was little more than a token measure that would not stop the boats. “Ninety-nine per cent of (Sri Lankan) asylum-seekers to Australia are Tamils so they needed to signal that they will not be accepted. It is a token measure your government has done but I think it’s not really going to suffice.”

Mr Anthony flew back into Colombo early Thursday morning in the custody of Australian immigration officials and was handed over to the Sri Lankan authorities. He was held for questioning for 16 hours before fronting a government press conference to recant all previous claims of torture against authorities there.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority have complained of their systematic persecution by Sinhalese-dominated governments since the island nation gained independence from Britain in 1948.

While the Sri Lankan government is now de-mining and funnelling development money to the war-ravaged and former Tamil Tiger-held north, the UN said last November it was still “seriously concerned about the continued and consistent allegations of the widespread use of torture” in police custody.

This week, Tamil diaspora communities across the world mark the 29th anniversary of the 1983 riots — known as Black July — where hundreds of Sri Lankan Tamils were killed in violence triggered by reports of Tamil Tiger attacks against the military in the north.

Until early 2010, more than six months after the Sri Lankan military vanquished the Tamil Tiger resistance in a bloody final crackdown in the country’s north, Australia prioritised acceptance of Tamil refugees. But in April of that year then prime minister Kevin Rudd suspended for three months all Sri Lankan asylum applications while Australia considered the “changed circumstances” in that country.

A number of Sri Lankans have been deported since war ended in May 2009, and at least one remains behind bars in Sri Lanka on people-smuggling charges, but Mr Anthony is understood to be the first Tamil. Refugee advocates in Australia say there are as many as 150 more Sri Lankan Tamils in detention who have exhausted their avenues of appeal and could face deportation in coming months.

Sri Lankan authorities say that they have detained more than 500 would-be asylum-seekers this month — the highest number on record. Two more boats carrying a total of 69 Sri Lankans were intercepted early on Monday morning attempting to leave from the western port of Negombo.


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