SEE a range of articles plus Emily Howie’s summary of previous news items
I: Surge Sri Lanka ‘payback’ … by Cameron Stewart & Paul Maley in The Australian, 2 February 2013
THE surge in asylum-seeker boats to Australia may have been quietly sanctioned at senior levels of the Sri Lankan government as a political payback for Australia’s attempts to make Colombo answer for alleged atrocities committed during its civil war. The theory has been discussed by Gillard government officials. It follows a widely asserted belief within the Australian government that a powerful Sri Lankan government official may be “complicit” in the people-smuggling trade and has facilitated the passage of dozens of boats to Australia during the past 10 months. The Australian yesterday revealed that the official is close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. The Gillard government has chosen not to confront the official, fearing that a confrontation could cause the official to step up his alleged people-smuggling activities and further undermine what has otherwise been good co-operation with members of the Sri Lankan government on people-smuggling.
Sri Lanka’s consul general in Australia, Bandula Jayasekara, yesterday described the claims against the official as a “bad dream” and a “piece of journalistic rubbish”. A spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said there was “no evidence” to support the allegation the official, whom The Weekend Australian has chosen not to name, was complicit in smuggling. That position was echoed by a government official who, on condition of anonymity, told The Weekend Australian they were unaware of a “smoking gun” that proved the case against the person.
However, the belief inside government is that it would be impossible for so many boats to leave Sri Lanka in such a relatively short period of time without the assistance of the man.
Australia was surprised last year when Sri Lanka became the largest source of asylum-seekers; 122 came despite the flow from Sri Lanka stopping shortly after the end of the 2009 civil war.
Boatloads of Sri Lankans began to arrive in large numbers around the same time that Australia co-sponsored a UN Human Rights Council Resolution calling on Sri Lanka to address alleged violations of international law during the country’s 20 year civil war, which ended in 2009 Some senior government officials do not believe this timing was a coincidence and that the Sri Lankan official helped to send boatsto Australia after the UN vote. However others disagree, believing the official had probably been motivated by money rather than by a desire for revenge.
The UN resolution adopted in March called on the government of Sri Lanka to take “credible” steps to ensure accountability for alleged serious violations committed during the final stages of the country’s civil war. The 47-member UN Human Rights Council called on the government to take “all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans”.
The Sri Lankan government has consistently denied allegations it committed any human rights violations during the war. The claims drew a scathing response from Mr Jayasekara. “It is very regrettable to see that you have taken great pains to tarnish the image of my country whilst seated thousands of miles away without knowing the trouble undertaken by the government and Defence authorities of Sri Lanka to stop the people smuggling,” he said.
II. “Canberra denies Sri Lanka people-smuggling report,” by David Wroe, in The Age, 1 February 2013
The Gillard government has flatly denied a news report that a senior Sri Lankan government official was suspected by Australian authorities to have been complicit in the people-smuggling trade. The Australian reported Friday that intelligence agencies had identified a high-profile Sri Lankan official close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa who had authorised asylum-seeker boats leaving Sri Lanka bound for Australia. But a spokesman for Foreign Minister Bob Carr said the claims were untrue.’There is no evidence to support the allegation that this official is complicit in people-smuggling,” he said. ”Australia and Sri Lanka have a strong record of co-operation in preventing people-smuggling ventures.”
The official was not named in the news report, which drew an angry response from the Sri Lankan Consul-General in Sydney, Bandula Jayasekara, who called the claims ”unbelievable, ridiculous and mischievous”. The Australian stated that senior Gillard government figures were aware of the intelligence assessments about the Sri Lankan official. Options were canvassed for how to deal with the claims ahead of a December trip by Senator Carr to Colombo.
Senator Carr did not raise the allegations with the Sri Lankan government during that visit.
Much of the increase in asylum-seeker boat arrivals last year came from Sri Lanka, though this has tapered off in recent weeks.
III. Emily Howie’s Summary Bulletin
Here is a bulletin of recent news and reports in relation to the boat migration from Sri Lanka to Australia. The stories relate mainly to the recent visit to Sri Lanka by an Australian opposition party delegation, allegations that the Australian Government has suspected that a senior Sri Lankan official is involved in people smuggling and to the reduced number of arrivals in January 2013. As usual, please let me know if you have any articles to share in this bulletin or ideas as to how it might be improved. If you no longer wish to receive this, just let me know.
Australian government denies evidence of official SL links to smuggling
1 February 2013
The Gillard Government denies that it suspected that a senior Sri Lankan government official was engaged in people smuggling networks. Foreign Minister Bob Carr: “There is no evidence to support the allegation that this official is complicit in people-smuggling.’’
Australian delegation praises work of Sri Lanka navy
1 February 2013
During discussions between President Rajapaksa and members of the Australian delegation to Sri Lanka, the question of illegal migration was raised. The delegation said the Navy’s rate of interception of people illegally leaving Sri Lankan shores on boats for Australia is “an extraordinary achievement.”
Australian intelligence links senior Sri Lankan official to people smuggling networks
The Australian/Daily Mirror
31 January 2013
A report that a senior Sri Lankan government official, close to President Mahinda Rajapaksa is suspected by Australian authorities of being personally “complicit” in the people-smuggling trade and that intelligence assessments about the figure are widely known at the highest levels of the Gillard government. “That presents a diplomatic dilemma for Australia, which must steer a middle course between lobbying Sri Lanka to improve its tainted human rights record while at the same time trying to avoid offending the Sri Lankan government.”
TNA politician claims misrepresentation by shadow Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop
Statement by Tamil Refugee Council (see attachment)
31 January 2013
Australian shadow Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, says the Australian delegation to Sri Lanka has not been shown evidence of ongoing persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka. “Clearly, there are claims people fear persecution. We’ve not seen any evidence of it. We’ve asked for details. But none has been forthcoming,” she said. Tamil National Alliance MP Sivagnanam Sritharan claims Ms Bishop’s account is misleading given the discussions during the delegation’s visit to the north and east.
Australian government claims returns have stopped the boats
30 January 2013
Only three Sri Lankans arrived in Australia in January 2013 and the Australian government claims this reduced number of arrivals is a direct response to the 700 involuntary returns in 2012.
Sri Lankans die at sea near Java
29 January 2013
Report of a boat crash off the coast of Indonesia in which two Sri Lankans died. The boat was reportedly heading for Australia.
Australian Opposition delegation discusses Sri Lanka-Australia agreement to intercept and return all boats
28 January 2013
(see also PDF attached)
A report about the visit of the Australian opposition delegation who are in Sri Lanka to negotiate a possible agreement to intercept and return all asylum boats. The Australian reports that the government’s ‘screening out’ practice has been applied almost exclusively to Sinhalese Sri Lankans, and that ‘senior government officials’ believe the screening out process to have been highly successful. There were no Sri Lankans among the 189 people who arrived by boat in the previous four days.
Opposition delegation likely to continue involuntary returns
28 January 2013
Shadow Foreign Affairs spokesperson, Julie Bishop, says that the coalition continues to support involuntary returns, despite hearing the concerns of Tamil National Alliance MPs about treatment of Tamil returnees.Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence22 January 2013In January, Australia returned more Sri Lankans voluntarily. “The group of seven men brought to 942 the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers who have returned home since August 13 – 729 involuntarily and 213 voluntarily – when the Federal Government announced it was reopening offshore processing on Nauru and Manus Island.” See also the statement of the Australian High Commission here.
Sri Lankan asylum seekers detained in Kerala
9 January 2013
Report of the detention of a group of 51 Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Kerala. The people in the group had been living in refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, and were allegedly seeking to board a boat to Australia.