Asylum Australia for Sri Lankans? THEN and NOW

Michael Roberts 

Through the first decade of the 21st century fishing trawlers attempted to breach the Australian borders with illegal migrants and this process continued even after Eelam War IV ended in May 2009 …. indeed, even receiving a boost because of the circumstances of considerable segments of the SL Tamil populace in Sri Lanka and in refugee camps in southern India.

In July 2012 I presented a BIBLIOGRAPHY on this topic in Thuppahi and I call attention to it here: …………. ……………………………………….

epa03396379 A young girl from a group of Sri Lankan asylum seekers as they arrive at Bungus port, near Padang, West Sumatra, Indonesia 13 September 2012. At least 40 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka were transferred from Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra to the Immigration Detention Pekan Baru, Riau. Total number of migrants for 2012 is close to 10,000, with many of them Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians who have paid people-smugglers to ferry them from Indonesia to Australia. EPA/STRINGER

One line of emphasis in this set of presentations was to underline the activities of mostly Tamil entrepreneurs promoting these journeys from Sri Lanka and India. The routes included flights to South East Asia and boat journeys from Indonesia. Among these entrepreneurs was the infamous “alex’ Kuhendrajah, A Tamil Candian who had moved to Tamilnadu as one step in his entrepreneurship.


A careful disaggregation of the statistics for the period 2001-12 is called for in order to compute figures and proportions of the Tamis, Muslim and Sinhalese asylum-seekers respectively; and to distinguish the  embarkation points as well as the ethnic  breakdown of the boatowners/entrepreneurs promoting these ventures.

The recent eruption of asylum-seekers, as we know,  include a significant proportion of Sinhalese from the coastal fringes extending from Mutwal to Chilaw (and therefore it is likely that a good many of these personnel will be Catholics).

In the recent news reports on the Lankan asylum seekers, a passing reference indicated that some of the men from the Negombo area who were sent back recently in May-June 2022 included individuals who had returned to Sri Lanka from Italy.  In other words, it was migration journey Number Two. Having encountered young Sinhalese as hawkers in the seaside towns of Sicily and Sardinia in the course of my holdiay trips to these ports in 2008 and  2015(?), I am not surprised that such personnel had both the enterprise and wherewithal to venture forth once again.

I face a problem here: I have forgotten the details and main strands within the work I presented in the years 2009-12. I must re-read them assiduously in order to cull material pertinent to the present wave of attempted migration. Of course, we know full well that the dire economic circumstances prevailing in the island now in 2022 constitute the principal push-factor. I suspect that the proportion of Sinhalese among the recent batches of failed migrants will be much higher than the proportions m attempting the trips in the period 2001-12.


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