AND “Australian minister visits Sri Lanka, snubs Tamil groups” … courtesy of Gulf News
Colombo: Australia’s immigration minister, defending Canberra’s policy of turning back boats of asylum seekers, visited a focal point of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war against Tamil separatists, but came under fire for meeting no Tamil political or civil groups.
Scott Morrison was visiting Sri Lanka to hand over two patrol boats to strengthen the island nation’s surveillance against people smuggling.
His visit coincided with accusations by Sri Lankans intercepted and sent home that Australian customs officials had mistreated them. A second boat carrying 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers remained in legal limbo as the Australian High Court considered whether their interception was legal. Morrison and other Australian officials denied the allegation.
Most of the group returned to Sri Lanka were members of the majority Sinhalese community and not minority Tamils, who have alleged persecution by Sri Lankan authorities since the defeat of the separatists in the civil war in 2009.
During a visit on Wednesday to Jaffna, the Tamil-dominated city in Sri Lanka’s north, Morrison met the governor of the Northern Province, G.A. Chandrasiri, a presidential appointee.
Local Tamil groups said he did not meet chief minister, C.V. Vigneswaran, the leader of the Tamil National Alliance, the party that finished first in last year’s regional election and controls a regional assembly, or any civil society groups.
“He did not meet any single Tamil representative or civil society group,” Tamil National Alliance spokesman Suresh Premachndran told Reuters.
“I still don’t know the intention of his brief visit. He may want to show that he visited Jaffna. But he did not speak to any Tamils.” Morrison’s office did not immediately reply to emails and calls about his visit to Jaffna.
UN inquiry: The United Nations has launched an inquiry into war crimes allegedly committed by both Sri Lankan state forces and Tamil rebels in the final months of the conflict, saying the government has failed to investigate properly. Sri Lanka rejects such allegations as interference in its internal affairs.
While Sri Lanka says many asylum seekers are economic migrants, rights groups say Tamils seek asylum to prevent torture, rape and other violence at the hands of the military.
The 37 Sinhalese and four Tamils on the first boat were returned to Sri Lanka over the weekend and appeared in court in the port city of Galle.
Group members told Reuters they had been trying to reach New Zealand, not Australia, to seek jobs for a “better life”. One man said he had “no problem” with the Sri Lankan government.
Five people suspected of being the ringleaders of a people smuggling operation were detained and 27 were released on bail.
All children were released without charge.
Asked by reporters in Colombo if he was concerned the 41 would be mistreated by Sri Lankan authorities, Morrison said: “No, I’m not.” Less clear are the origin and motives of the second boat of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
Australia’s Tamil Refugee Council said of the 153 people on the second boat, some 48 are from India’s 60,000-strong, unregistered Sri Lankan Tamil refugee community. At least 11 of those had been tortured in Sri Lanka, the council said.
About 60 million people live in India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, dominated by ethnic Tamils.
The Organisation for Eelam Refugees’ Rehabilitation, based in Tamil Nadu, said more than a quarter of those on the second ship had been traced to refugee camps in the Indian state.
Morrison dismissed as “offensive” claims of mistreatment made by some of the returned asylum seekers.
“Any venture … that thinks they can get to Australia, well, I think a very clear message is being said, particularly in the last few days: that venture will not prevail.” One of the asylum seekers, N.A. Nilantha, said Australian Customs officials acted “in an inhumane manner” before the transfer to the Sri Lankan navy.
“They knelt us down, they dragged us, holding our necks,” he told Reuters soon after he was released on bail in the southern port of Galle.
“They gave meat for a dog on board while we were given only a slice of bread. When we complained of being sick and having/ headaches, they said we were pretending. They did not treat us for any of our illnesses.”
3 responses to “Batting for Sri Lanka: Abbott, Bishop and Morrison …”
Advocates ‘coaching’ asylum-seekers to self-harm for political reasons.
A former director of offshore processing in Australia’s immigration detention camps claims asylum-seekers are coached and encouraged to attempt self-harm by refugee advocates who then use the incidents as political capital.
Greg Lake made his strident attack on “certain refugee advocates” whose behaviour “is at odds with their mandate as advocates” as the Refugee Action Coalition backed down from claims in a press release on Monday that up to “10 mothers in the family camp have attempted suicide in the last two days on Christmas Island”.
Refugee coalition spokesman Ian Rintoul told The Australian yesterday that women in the family camp wanted to get off Christmas Island for the mainland, though some said they would be happy to go to Nauru.
“I probably shouldn’t have said attempted suicide,” he said.
“People drinking concoctions of shampoo or detergent generally don’t die — was it a drastic cry for help? Yes, it was, and it remains that way.”
Extra guards continued to be stationed in the island’s family camp yesterday to keep watch on women who had either threatened, attempted or carried out self-harm during the past week.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has rubbished claims published in Fairfax Media that up to 12 mothers had attempted suicide so their orphaned babies would be raised in Australia.
The government has described the self-harm as minor. While asylum-seekers are flown to mainland hospitals in the event of medical emergency, the only person to leave the Australian territory this week for medical reasons was a Christmas Island resident.
The asylum-seeker women on watch at the camp this week include a young Iranian who does not have children; she spent time in the camp’s medical centre after leaping from what guards have described as the flat roof of one-storey transportable accommo-dation on Sunday. She had recently returned from medical treatment on the mainland.
Mr Rintoul said he had communicated with the women before they harmed themselves but denied encouraging them to do so or having prior knowledge that they would.
“Of course not,” he said.
“There may have been some indication of people heading this way — they were extremely worried about the presence of the Serco guards and the police (over the weekend).
“It’s clear to me now that Serco was expecting a situation.”
The tense atmosphere continued in Christmas Island’s family camp as authorities prepared to send more asylum-seekers to Nauru. Tonight a group of detainees is scheduled to leave the island for Nauru, and more frequent flights are expected as more accommodation comes online.
Mr Lake said in his time at what is now called the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, he grew disgusted by the actions of some refugee advocates who were clearly urging asylum-seekers to self-harm as a form of protest so they could put out a press release about it.
He said the advocates communicated with the asylum-seekers by Facebook message, phone and email. While the department did not read asylum-seekers’ communications, he said what was going on was obvious and often emerged later in interviews with detainees who had hurt themselves on purpose.
He said he believed some advocates communicated with a ringleader, who then “stood over” other detainees to compel them to make a statement through self-harm.
“There are certain prominent advocates who will coach and encourage asylum-seekers to self-harm as a political protest and it makes me very upset and I believe it is at odds with their mandate as advocates,” Mr Lake said.
“The problem is, outside of the government or public service, people aren’t aware of their tactics.”
Mr Lake, who resigned as an immigration official in April last year, claimed that one of his last tasks on Nauru was to interview eight asylum-seekers who had joined a lip-sewing protest, but who had been bullied into it by a detainee who was in communication with a refugee advocate.
“These guys didn’t want anything to do with it,” he said.
“They only did it because they were pushed by the ringleader.”
The Australian has learned that refugee advocates and others working inside the Christmas Island compounds are linking this week’s self-harm incidents to a recent decision by Mr Morrison to allow three vulnerable Somali girls to leave the camp and live in Sydney’s west. – The Australian
The Australian Labour Party’s last Foreign Minister Bob Carr, has ridiculed refugee advocates’ “urban mythology” about endemic persecution of Tamils in Sri Lanka, saying the previous government “couldn’t find a single case” of returned asylum-seekers being abused by authorities.
Carr who retired from politics last October, accepted Sri Lanka’s recovery after 35 years of civil war was not “a perfect exercise”, but rejected former Liberal Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser’s likening of the Abbott government’s policy to returning Jews to Nazi Germany. Carr’s comments come as the Abbott government determines the fate of 153 Sri Lankan nationals being held aboard an Australian Customs vessel after their interception at sea. Forty-one asylum-seekers, mostly belonging to Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese majority, have already been returned and face charges of leaving the country illegally. The government agreed in the High Court yesterday not to hand the 153 asylum-seekers over to Sri Lanka without 72 hours’ notice. However The Australian understands the government has no intention of sending the boatload to Sri Lanka, nor are authorities in Colombo preparing to receive them.
Those now on board the ªCustoms boat could be transferred to the Manus Island offshore processing centre in Papua New Guinea, the Nauru centre or repatriated to India.
Refugee advocates argue Tamils should not be returned to Sri Lanka because they fear persecution in the wake of the country’s civil war.
Mr Carr said Sri Lanka was “not doing badly” given its decades-long civil war with the “bloodthirsty” Tamil Tigers, whom he compared with genocidal Cambodian dictator Pol Pot.
“Things I’ve been hearing from the refugee lobby are simply unsustainable,” Mr Carr, a former NSW Labor premier who served as foreign minister to Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd, told ABC Radio. “The idea that there is entrenched apartheid in the country like old South Africa or the West Bank just cannot be sustained.
“You’ve got 12 per cent of the population of Sri Lanka of Tamil background and they are heavily represented in the leadership of the country. You’ve got Tamil political parties sitting in the parliament,
Tamil judges, Tamil doctors and engineers, a Tamil business leadership.
“There’s a great danger in this that we accept one side in this narrative … It’s not just a Tamil Tigers’ narrative; it’s a narrative about a complex society rebuilding itself after 35 years of vicious violence and not doing badly.”
Tony Abbott declined to comment on The Australian’s report, saying: “I’m just not going to make any comments upon Operation Sovereign Borders activities on the water. I just want to stress to you and your listeners that we will comply with our legal obligations and we will certainly comply with our obligations to promote safety at sea.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: “Tony Abbott needs to come clean and tell us what’s really going on, rather than cloaking everything they do in this area in a shroud of secrecy and not telling people the truth.”
Mr Carr said the Labor government returned a boatload of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers about August 2012, none of whom were treated inhumanely. Rather, they were interviewed and then released.
“There were only four issues raised with returnees by the High Commission, their position was carefully investigated and there was no mistreatment confirmed,” Mr Carr said.
“There was extraordinary urban mythology promoted about their treatment.
I had it put to me in a meeting with NGOs at DFAT once that there were hundreds of returnees from Australia held in detention; now that was pure myth.
“It’s in the interests of Sri Lanka to send a message to the world – for goodness sake, the country’s under constant close observance by the Human Rights Commission in Geneva – that in cases like this it adheres to its own law.”
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