Harshula, 3 September 2012, courtesy of Groundviews **
Context: the SBS Dateline documentary on asylum seekers, Sunday night 26 August 2012
1. I have asked Western journalists, including Australians, about their experiences covering Sri Lanka. The general feeling is regardless of what they write/say there will be someone that complains. The enthusiastic elements within the Tamil Eelam lobby and anti-Eelam groups shout quite loudly and frequently, sometimes irrationally and/or disingenuously. This is particularly true in Australia. One wonders whether Sri Lankans in Sri Lanka will reconcile before the Sri Lankans in Sydney!
2. The LTTE was never proscribed as a terrorist organisation in Australia even though two Australian Prime Ministers attempted it. In the first instance NGOs fought against it.
3. I have asked Australians about their level of interest in Sri Lanka. Most could not care less. Sri Lanka is a cricket team first and, now, a source of asylum seekers that arrive on boats.
4. The asylum seeker issue is heavily politicised and controversial in Australia. The arrival of asylum seekers by boat seems to create more anger than those arriving by plane. The Tamil Eelam lobby recently offered to pay for the journey of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers to Australia. (http://expertpanelonasylumseekers.dpmc.gov.au/sites/default/files/public-submissions/TamilsAgainstGenocide.pdf)
5. There are fundamental faults in Australia’s approach to asylum seekers and the accuracy of the processes that determine if an asylum seeker is a refugee. Those working in the refugee sector do admit there are some asylum seekers that are not genuine refugees. However, there are also asylum seekers with harrowing tales of violence. There is much Australia could learn from Canada’s approach to asylum seekers.
6. UNHCR’s description of a fault in Australia’s system:
“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.””(http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/asylum-system-flooded-but-deportations-slow-to-a-trickle/story-fn9hm1gu-1226438979135)
7. Economic migrants?: “As a Tamil in (Sinhalese-dominated) Kandy, people question why you’re there. Police start tracking you and CID comes and that happens frequently because I am from Vavuniya in the north. The LTTE trouble is long back, but as Tamils we have a loophole to say the army is chasing us. What I heard was Australia won’t deport you if you say that.” (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/immigration/dramatic-mid-sea-transfer-ends-freedom-run/story-fn9hm1gu-1226438080707)
8. There have been instances of Indians pretending to be Sri Lankan in order to gain refugee status (http://www.ipsnews.net/2012/07/sri-lanka-emerges-as-launchpad-for-human-smuggling/).
1. Mark Davis has successfully presented a very narrowly focused story that the Australian public care about. The pertinent question being whether the majority of recent Sri Lankan asylum seekers are primarily fleeing due to a fear of persecution or due to the pursuit of better economic conditions. The Australian Tamil Eelam lobby utilises asylum seekers to further their own agenda. Hence, reports by the likes of SBS’ Mark Davis, The Australian’s Amanda Hodge and Channel 7′s Tim Noonan brings into question the credibility of vocal and visible Tamil Eelam lobbyists in Australia.
2. Amusingly, the translation/subtitling is credited to: “Sara Nathan, Edilbert Rajadurai, Vaseekaran Rajadurai”. Are all of these individuals NAATI credited? Sara (Saradha) Nathan is one of the most vocal Tamil Eelam lobbyists in Australia. She’s a member of the Australian Tamil Congress (http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2010/s2802875.htm) which is the Australian counterpart of the British Tamil Forum and under the umbrella of the Global Tamil Forum. Most Australian media attribute her solely as a refugee advocate. Though she should be commended for her refugee advocacy, it should also be known that she considers, like Palestinians, Sri Lankan Tamils in the North and East to be under military occupation since Sri Lanka gained independence. This is what she told a Palestinian advocate. Brian Senewiratne of the Queensland Chapter of the Australian Tamil Congress also spoke, as usual mainly about himself. At the same event in Australia, attendees, mainly from the NGO sector, were able to directly communicate via video-call with asylum seekers on-board the Jaya Lestari that was detained at Merak. The whole episode was heavily choreographed aimed at playing to the emotions rather than the intellect with the children paraded in front of the camera. This was the boat of the infamous “Alex”. Read Michael Roberts’ articles that describe the naive gullibility of the Australian media in that instance.
3. SBS has traditionally been a stronghold of Tamil Eelam lobbyists. In 2000, a Dateline report by Graham Davis revealed that an SBS Radio employee is linked to an organisation alleged to be financing the LTTE.
“JANA WENDT: SBS managing director Nigel Milan was approached by Dateline, but declined to appear. Instead, Mr Milan provided a short statement:
STATEMENT BY NIGEL MILAN: SBS management takes very seriously claims of a potential conflict of interest relating to an SBS employee made by the Dateline program. The matter is being fully investigated.”
Graham Davis was fired afterwards. Tamil Eelam lobbyist Brami Jegatheeswaran (Brami Jegan) has worked at SBS (http://groundviews.org/2011/11/03/australia%E2%80%99s-tamil-eelam-lobby-and-chogm/).
1. re: “That people are drawn to seek refuge here is a measure of their need, not an indicator that we are a soft touch.”
The question that Suvendrini Perera needs to address is what percentage of recent Sri Lankan asylum seekers are primarily motivated due to economic reasons.
Suvendrini Perera’s views and personal experience can be read in “What gain in stopping the boats?” (http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/politics/what-gain-in-stopping-the-boats-20091111-i9y1.html) and “Don’t Mention The Push Factors” (http://newmatilda.com/2011/06/28/dont-mention-push-factors). The latter article suggests Suvendrini Perera is not “troubled” or “disturbed” by nor considers the Channel 4 documentary littered with factual errors “grotesque”. Read “Channel 4?s ‘Killing Fields’: Journalism, Advocacy or Propaganda?” (http://groundviews.org/2011/09/13/channel-4s-killing-fields-journalism-advocacy-or-propaganda/)
2. A careful analysis of Suvendrini Perera’s ‘open letter’ illustrates that it is devoid of tangible criticism. She complains about the “tenor of your report”, “picture you painted”, “was nothing less than grotesque” and lists many unrelated events and issues. Suvendrini Perera has not pointed out a single factual error. “grotesque” and “Comical Ali” make an appearance elsewhere too (http://newmatilda.com/2009/12/15/clear-message-people-smuggling).
Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora
• The Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora has been a dismal failure at improving the living conditions of Sri Lankan Tamils in Tamil Nadu, India. This is the biggest stain on the credibility of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora when it claims to care about the plight of Tamils. Perhaps it brings to the forefront the socio-economic segmentation within the Sri Lankan Tamil community.
• ICG: “Without major shifts in their political strategies, Tamil diaspora organisations are unlikely to play a positive role in post-war Sri Lanka or effectively promote the interests of Tamils and Tamil speakers in Sri Lanka. Most Tamils abroad still believe an independent state is possible and many are even clinging to the belief that the Tiger leadership is still alive. While pro-LTTE elements in the diaspora have reluctantly accepted that armed struggle has failed, many would still prefer the Tigers to be fighting for Tamil Eelam and would be willing to fund a resurgent LTTE. New diaspora initiatives attempt to carry forward the struggle for an independent state in more transparent and democratic ways, but they are still pursuing the LTTE’s agenda, just without its guns. Even these activities are out of step with the wishes and needs of Tamils in Sri Lanka. ” (http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/186-the-sri-lankan-tamil-diaspora-after-the-ltte.aspx)
** To my knowledge Harshula lives in Australia but I do not have his surname or location. WEB Editor