ITEM ONE. David Corlett: “The Nightmare of Returning to Sri Lanka,” 10 September 2014
The Abbott government has all but claimed victory in stopping asylum seeker boats. Offshore processing and turning around boats at sea have been important elements in achieving this goal. Also important has been its efforts at returning asylum seekers, especially Sri Lankans.
In October 2012, the Labor government introduced a new “enhanced screening” process in order to return Sri Lankans arriving by boat within days. Since then, more than 1300 people have been returned to Sri Lanka under this process – after just a cursory assessment of their claims.
Scores more have been returned “voluntarily” from the offshore processing system and from Australia, often with the assistance of the International Organisation for Migration. And 4500 others have been intercepted by the Sri Lankan navy, with which Australia has close ties, while attempting to come to Australia.
Last month, I travelled to Sri Lanka and spoke to people who had been returned from Australia. One woman, who says she had political problems in Sri Lanka, said the Sri Lankan military raped her before she eventually boarded a boat and fled. On her second attempt to escape, Australian border officials intercepted her vessel After days at sea, as she was kept on an Australian vessel, she was subjected to “enhanced screening,” consisting of a 30-minute satellite phone interview, through an interpreter, with an immigration department decision-maker back on the mainland.
With three or four of her fellow passengers, in the same area who she was unsure she could trust, she said that there was no privacy for her to tell her full story. On the basis of this brief interview, Australian officials determined that it was safe to send her back.
When I met her in a secret location, after an elaborate process involving a lawyer, a “safe” driver, and various phone calls in which I was instructed to go from one place to the next to get further directions, she was terrified of being picked up again by Sri Lankan authorities. She was living out of a suitcase and moving from house to house. She has since told me that she has fled her homeland for a second time.
Another man I spoke to, as part of research on those sent back to Sri Lanka, told me he had been subjected to brutal torture after Australian officials rejected his refugee application and he was returned. After months of monitoring by Sri Lankan security forces, he was abducted and taken to a secret location. He says that for more than two months, he was tortured, including having his fingernails torn out and being hung upside down and beaten.
He was accused of being associated with the defeated Tamil Tigers. Later, he says he was picked up again and taken to the notorious fourth floor of the Criminal Investigations Department in Colombo. This time, he says his wrists and ankles were tied behind his back and he was hung from a pole between two chairs.
These stories may seem paranoid or unbelievably brutal, but they are consistent with credible international research. Earlier this year, human rights lawyer Yasmin Sooka wrote a study called, An Unfinished War: Torture and Sexual Violence in Sri Lanka 2009-2014.
Ms Sooka was a commissioner on South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She was also one the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts advising him on Sri Lanka. Ms Sooka’s report found that even now, years after the end of the civil war, people accused of being associated with the Tigers are being abducted by men in “white vans” and then tortured, including branding with hot rods. Men and women are sexually abused and raped, including by multiple perpetrators.
Ms Sooka told me that this is planned and systematic and goes to the “highest level” of government.
Sri Lanka is a country that is rebuilding after decades of civil war. Tourists are flocking there is increasing numbers. Not everyone who comes to Australia from Sri Lanka is in need of international protection. But the presumption behind Australia’s quick return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers after just a cursory assessment of their claims – namely that it is not only administratively and politically convenient, but that it is safe to do so – is not well founded.
So as the government and its supporters congratulate themselves on stopping the boats, including for humanitarian reasons, we need to ask again, “at what cost?”
David Corlett is the host of Go Back To Where You Came From. His story Returned to Torture? will air on SBS Dateline at 9.30pm Tuesday.
ITEM TWO. Among the eleven COMMENTS is one from Mahinda Gunasekera of Toronto, dated 1 October 2014
Those who illegally enter and seek refuge in another country would always come up with a sob story to win the sympathy of the immigration authorities. The Refugee Board in Canada reported that nearly all Tamils who sought asylum related a very similar story and were likely coached to do so. Especially, if they had links to the Tamil Tiger terrorists, their sponsors would arrange to have them undergo medically supervised torture on their bodies with telltale signs, as they have to make a special case to qualify for asylum. Sooka and Frances Harrison refer to a dozen such cases in the UK and Europe, whereas none of the 12000 former Tiger cadres rehabilitated with new skills and living in Sri Lanka have complained of such torture by the authorities. There have been 12 cases of rape or sexual abuse by military personnel in the NE of Sri Lanka over the past 5 years who have been dealt with by the courts and also punished by Military Courts, as against over 500 cases of rape by Tamils on Tamils during the same period. After the defeat of the Tigers, Tamils too enjoy freedom of movement with ability to leave the country through normal channels without question. Those who seek the illegitimate route out of the country may not have the required qualifications to apply for immigration, so they resort to catch a boat with a help of a relative already in Australia or Canada to gain entry to a developed country for economic reasons. With backing of rights groups, bleeding hearts, lawyers and others to assist, there will always be seekers with sob stories arriving on your shores.
Date and time
October 01, 2014, 12:50PM
AND “Haunted. Harrowing Tales of suffering from a Few Ex-Tigresses in the North Today,” 9 October 2014, http://thuppahis.com/2014/10/09/haunted-harrowing-tales-of-suffering-from-a-few-ex-tigresses-in-the-north-today/#more-14054
AND [The Tale of Dayan Anthony, a deportee from Australia, who recanted and disclosed his Subterfuges], in Amanda Hodge, “Deported Tamil recants tales of torture,” Weekend Australian, 28/29 July 2012, http://thuppahis.com/2012/07/28/6405/