Bandula Jayasekera, in The Australian, 9 July 2014
I couldn’t help reading over and over The Australian’s editorial of July 7 that said: “Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser doesn’t help his standing by likening the return of Tamils to Sri Lanka to handing over Jewish refugees to Nazi Germany. Such intemperance can only damage Mr. Fraser’s cause.” It certainly has, as has the hysterical language in the “lopsided” asylum debate in Australia in the past few days.
A misconception has been created among some Australians regarding asylum-seekers arriving from Sri Lanka because of a huge and very well-funded misinformation campaign carried out by parties with vested interests. Their claims are unfounded and unbelievable. Even Ripley would have said “You cannot believe it” instead of “Believe it or not!”
As the representative of Sri Lanka I can say with complete authority that those Sri Lankans (and I emphasise Sri Lankans — be they Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims, Malays or Burghers) who return to Sri Lanka do not face death or torture, as the prophets of doom claim in their vicious around-the-clock campaign here in Australia.
Failed or returned asylum-seekers are arrested and appear before a magistrate as people who have violated the immigration laws of Sri Lanka, as any country would do. The Criminal Investigation Department of Sri Lanka, under the Sri Lankan police, questions them to see if they have a criminal record and obtains a statement from them, and they are subsequently released without delay.
To those who incite fear for petty political or financial gain I say that Sri Lanka does not have the facilities to keep them in detention centres.
Failed asylum-seekers: With the help of failed asylum-seekers, Sri Lankan authorities try to find the operators and agents who dupe them to pursue legal action against them, as any country should to stop people-smuggling.
Well-organised groups who are aware of any boat coming to Australia coach prospective asylum-seekers to 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 the support of “refugee councils” and refugee lawyers. It is no secret that this has become a very profitable business — these journeys cost $US5000 ($5340) to $US8000 a head — sugar-coated with the sympathy of unsuspecting Australians. Even some in the media are not aware of the racket although I have seen certain journalists in Sydney quote nameless, faceless people and wondered whether they were really journalists or in fact refugee advocates.
Indian Ocean region: Sri Lanka and Australia enjoy excellent relations, and there is a great understanding between our countries. We have worked together in regional forums, such as the Bali Process on Human Trafficking, 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. But there is also great understanding at the people-to-people level.
Consider Louise Searle, born in Adelaide and reared in Sydney, who said in an article published on News.com.au on June 27 that she would give up life in Australia to live in Sri Lanka after an impromptu trip to the island. After only two days in the country and an incredible twist of events she bought a Sri Lankan resort. She tells why moving to Sri Lanka — once ravaged by civil war and recovering from a tsunami — is the ultimate sea change.
That is from someone who saw the real situation. More are waiting in the wings including cricketing great Shane Warne, who told me of his keenness to invest in Sri Lanka when I met him at the Ashes party hosted by Vivian Greig early this year. There are many Australians who have travelled to Sri Lanka through the years, even during the terrorist attacks.
They, and Tony Abbott, Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Immigration Minister Scott Morrison, who have first-hand information about Sri Lanka, understand the real situation in Sri Lanka much better than the refugee advocates and propagandists.
I hope Australians will not be hoodwinked by vested interests and urge the Australian public to be mindful of the lawyers and lobby groups who have an interest in this lucrative and political business and are unfortunately profiting from creating fear and hate to achieve their sinister objectives.
Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara is the consul general of Sri Lanka for NSW and Queensland.