Human rights lawyers slam asylum freeze


Human rights lawyers and former asylum seekers in Sri Lanka have slammed the Federal Government’s decision to suspend the processing of asylum seeker claims.

The Sri Lankan government says Tamils have no need to leave their homeland but human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias says the Australian government is jumping too soon if it believes the situation has improved dramatically for Tamils.

“The situation is still not clear for anybody to return, especially from the minority communities. Things are happening in this country. Things are not very favourable for returnees,” he said.

“So it’s a very bad decision if the Australian Government decided to send them back.

“The human rights community in Sri Lanka believe that the Sri Lankan human rights conditions are not improved.”

Mr Dias says if the Government wants to reduce the number of asylum seekers it should be concentrating its efforts on trying to improve democracy and governance in Sri Lanka.

“If the people have more access to an independent safety net, independent protection system, people will not go to Australia. People will stay here,” he said.

“So that’s the role of the Australian Government; a government which believes in rule of law; a government which believes in democracy; which believes in governance.”

A Tamil man in Colombo, Arockiam Anthony Lawrence, has already tried and failed once to reach Australian shores.

He was picked up by the Sri Lankan navy after the people smuggling boat he was on ran out of food and water.

He is now on bail, accused of having links to the Tamil Tigers.

He says discrimination against Tamils is still going on in Sri Lanka and he believes it will continue.

Thirty-one-year-old Saman knows what it is like to be caught between the Sinhalese majority and the Tamil minority.

He is Sinhalese, but was accused of being a Tamil Tiger sympathiser.

He applied for asylum after reaching Christmas Island in April last year, but his application was rejected and he was sent back to Sri Lanka.

“Yes, I am under threat. Since I arrived in the country I complain to the authorities – several organisations – regarding my security, and still people are searching me to kill me. So I am under threat,” he said.

‘Perfectly safe’

But the Sri Lankan government says old divisions have healed.

Minister for national integration and reconciliation Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan says the safety of Tamils can be guaranteed.

“I can tell one thing; our country is perfectly safe for the people now,” he said.

“In the future we can develop our country very well; we can use the job opportunities, we can create the jobs for the Tamil people.”

The Sri Lankan government is promising its next term in office will deliver peace and prosperity to the country, which is still emerging from decades of civil war.

The ruling alliance of president Mahinda Rajapaksa claimed victory in Thursday’s parliamentary election, although final results are not expected for several weeks.

Ruling party candidates have secured at least 60 per cent of the votes counted so far, more than double the total won by the main opposition party.

Re-runs will be held in two electorates because of alleged violence and intimidation.

The turnout for the parliamentary poll was just over 50 per cent in many parts of the country.

Election monitors say thousands of people in the Tamil-dominated north were unable to vote freely, but the government says the poll was fair.

The election was the first since Mr Rajapaksa declared victory against the separatist Tamil Tigers almost a year ago, and returned the entire island to government control after 25 years.

‘Changing conditions’

Immigration Minister Chris Evans announced changes to the Government’s refugee policy yesterday, saying he had decided to implement the processing suspension due to “changing conditions” in both countries.

New applications from Sri Lanka will be suspended for three months, while those from Afghanistan will be suspended for six months.

The Government will review whether the suspensions need to be extended at the end of those periods.

This means any new asylum seekers now arriving in Australian waters from those two countries will not have their refugee applications processed until the suspension is lifted.

The Government’s decision comes as the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reviews the international protection guidelines for both countries.

Senator Evans says the changes will mean that more asylum claims from the two countries will be refused.

Courtesy – ABC News