Bandula Jayasekara, in The Weekend Australian, 15/16 December 2012 … see Editorial C0mment at end
THERE is a misconception among some Australians regarding the issue of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers because of a misinformation campaign carried out by parties with vested interests. I am given to understand that some Australians sympathise with the asylum-seekers without having a clear picture of the situation. However, their sympathy would be in the interest of only the minority of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam supporters, who have a long-term agenda in Australia and other Western countries.There are many concerns about remnants of the LTTE (the terrorist group that tried to divide Sri Lanka through a violent struggle) still engaged in human smuggling. For a long time, these groups have operated beyond the shores of Sri Lanka, carrying out aggressive fundraising campaigns and engaged in human smuggling and transnational crimes.
They continue to do so. It is apparent that this pro-LTTE lobby wants to enter Australia, having penetrated into Canada and Britain. Its long-term plan is to have a voice in Australian politics, so as to lobby and tilt the balance in its favour. So far it has failed. However, it believes it important to create that base in Australia, an important English-speaking country.
I am of the view that Australia should look seriously at proscribing the LTTE and thereby preventing easy access to these LTTE remnant bodies, which pose a threat to Australian security. As the former consul general to Toronto in Canada, I have experienced first-hand how these groups interrupted the daily lives of Canadians with their violent methods. Their increased activities after the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka in 2009 may breed terrorism on Australian soil. They also are determined to create disharmony among minority groups and the peace-loving Sri Lankan expatriate community here that has contributed to the betterment of Australia as a multicultural country.
LTTE remnant groups carry out people-smuggling operations for profit and to find a passage for their foot soldiers to settle elsewhere. They also mislead other innocent and poor Sri Lankans by portraying Australia as a promised land that welcomes everyone with open arms, providing them with shelter and a substantial living allowance. They tell them it is an easy task to become a citizen of Australia.
These groups coach prospective asylum-seekers on what they should say when their boats are intercepted. At times they even have a spokesman in the group. They say they were harassed and tortured in Sri Lanka, and would be harassed and tortured if the Australian authorities were to send them back. These groups have well-oiled machinery and the support of “refugee councils” and refugee lawyers. It is a very profitable business, sugar-coated with the sympathy of unsuspecting Australians; sometimes even the media and other people are not aware of the racket.
Sri Lanka’s navy takes great pains and spends a considerable sum of money, fuel and manpower as it continues to prevent these operatives. For the benefit of Australians I would like to explain what happens when the Sri Lankan navy intercepts their boats. First, those on board are arrested and produced before a magistrate as people who have violated the immigration laws of Sri Lanka. Later they are fined and released. However, the few who are unable to pay the fines immediately stay on remand until a relative or a friend pays the fine and secures their release. When prospective asylum-seekers are returned from Australia, the Criminal Investigation Department of Sri Lanka questions them, obtains a statement from them and subsequently releases them without much delay. Sri Lanka does not have the facility to keep them in detention centres. With the help of failed asylum-seekers, Sri Lankan authorities try to find the operators and agents who dupe them in order to pursue legal action against them. I can say with authority that Sri Lanka does not persecute the failed asylum-seekers. I request Australians not to be hoodwinked by the LTTE remnant groups. I also would urge the Australian public to be mindful of the lawyers and lobby groups who have an interest in this lucrative and political business.
Australians also must look carefully at the groups that have called for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricket tour. They are the Tamil Refugee Council and the Refugee Action Collective in Victoria. One does not have to think much to understand their motive after my explanation here. It is with great sadness I note the attempts to tarnish the image of innocent, right-thinking, honourable Sri Lankan Tamils who are not a party to this campaign by groups with vested interests. The world must be reminded that the ruthless LTTE leadership and associated terrorists wiped out moderate Tamil leaders and held innocent Tamils behind iron curtains until they were rescued by the Sri Lankan security forces.
Sri Lankan authorities, with the help of their Australian counterparts in Colombo, are carrying out a public awareness campaign in selected areas of the country about the status quo. They use loudhailers, distribute leaflets and explain to people the consequences of getting duped by LTTE remnant groups and others associated with them. The leaflets explain that people should not fall prey to these groups and that they will be returned if they make any attempts to enter Australia through illegal means.
Sri Lanka and Australia have worked together in regional forums, such as the Bali Process on People-Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and Related Transnational Crime and the ASEAN Regional Forum. These interactions have been mutually beneficial in curtailing illegal migration and improving security in the Indian Ocean region.
Sri Lanka welcomes the visit of Australia’s Foreign Minister Bob Carr at this important juncture. Carr’s visit to Colombo and the launch of the joint working group on people-smuggling and transnational crime will provide a solid foundation for co-operation between the two countries in preventing people-smuggling and related activities and will also help improve bilateral relations.
Bandula Jayasekara is the consul general of Sri Lanka in Sydney.
Web Editor’s Comments:
- I. In my view relatively few of the asylum-seekers will be hard-core Tigers. Indeed of the 2409 Tamils boats apprehended by the SL Navy in 2012 up to 19th October only 34 (that is, 1.4 per cent) were deemed ex-LTTE by the Ministry of Defence. Furthermore, in my view most Tiger fighters who remain undiscovered within Sri Lanka and now seek foreign shores will be focusing on improving their economic circumstances, not re-engaging in conflict. In other words their emphasis will be directed towards becoming bourgeois.
II. It is, however, true to say that LTTE networks aboard (including India) have been part of the smuggling racket since mid-2009. The “Sun Sea” and at least one other ship that reached Canada were among the LTTE transnational shipping fleet. We also know that Alex Kuhendarajah was based in Chennai for some time and that the boat-load of Tamils on the “Jeya Leskari” of 2009 probably contained a good many SL Tamils (including Brindha who is now in Australia) from India. The TGTE certainly has an interest in bringing committed Tiger personnel from the remnants in India and Lanka across to their ranks in the west; but some scepticism must attach to the numbers in this category.
III. It is more probable is that the LTTE operators in southern India have gone private and are involved in people smuggling as a business. Indeed, one of the findings of the SBS documentary on the topic was that the LTTE had for decades maintained outsource links with fishermen and entrepreneurs on the Indian coast; and that these agencies were among those ferrying SL Tamil refugees to Australian shores as mostly (probably that is) independent operations.
IV. Jayasekara exaggerates the danger to Australia from Tamil Tiger activists. As Clive Williams has pointed out, the LTTE networks concentrate on anti-Sri Lankan activity and are careful to work within the Australian legal framework for the most part. They have many good brains and already have strong connections in the journalist world, university circles and advocacy groups. One illustration was seen during the press received by an LTTE activist Jegan Jegatheeswaran during the CHOGM meetings; and more recently through the Aussie journalists who pressed for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricketers. What the Australian government has to decide is whether they can expect the SL government to break its back as outsource agent blocking people smuggling from island Lanka, while doing bugger-all to limit the clever and insidious activities of the Tamil nationalist networks in Australia. In short, Jayasekara and GSL could now insist on some quid pro quo by asking “what is the gain for us in being a lackey doing some of your dirty work?
V. A striking aspect of Jayasekara’s piece in The Australian is the fact that it received prominence and that it is endorsed in a separate item by the Defence Editor Brendan Nicholson on page 5 with the headline “smuggling ‘funds’ Tamil Tigers” [ a report that quotes Jayasekara verbatim for several paragraphs]. What we see here is the Australian running with both hares and hounds because a few days previously it gave prominence to the extreme nationalist Bishop Rayappu Joseph’s assertions that Tamils deported from Sri Lanka were harassed etc, etc. Or, rather, one can say that the newspaper editorial is structured along different channels that run independent of each other. Brendan Nicholson is linked to the Australian Navy while Maley, Doherty and other journalists are part of the liberal-Left circuits in the news world.