In early November activists rallied in Brisbane to highlight the plight of Tamil asylum seekers and the threat to return them to danger in Sri Lanka.
The Tamils are a persecuted minority and following the Sinhalese army’s march into the predominately Tamil areas in Sri Lanka’s north and east in 2009, many thousands fled to Australia seeking safety.
But successive Australian governments have been hostile. Tamil boats have been intercepted by the Australian navy and turned back, using the “enhanced screening” process to dismiss asylum claims.
In December 2014, the government established a “fast track” processing system to deal with the claims of 30,000 asylum seekers who arrived by boat in recent years.
This sets up the Tamils to fail. Rebecca Lim, an Immigration Agent working closely with the Tamil community says the government is “proactively pursuing the Tamils” and she is anticipating an 80 per cent failure rate.
Fast tracking removes appeal rights and has seen legal aid stripped away, leaving many asylum seekers dealing with the system unrepresented. Assessors are dismissing credible reports about the conditions in Sri Lanka to rely on a document produced by the government’s own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Rebecca said, “we’ve got multiple reports from people like [UN adviser on Sri Lankan war crimes] Yasmin Sooka… who has written that anyone with any links to the LTTE, the Tamil Tigers, whether it’s minor, whether it’s a high level link, all should not go back”.
Assessors are telling people that if one area of the country is not safe, they can live in another. But Pan Jordan, a Tamil Catholic Priest, says this is “impossible”.
“After the war peace has not returned to Sri Lanka…because the Tamil areas are militarized…for every five Tamil persons there is one soldier in the north. Anything can happen, harassment by the army, intelligence services, all these things are going on even today…Sri Lanka is a small country and if you are a Tamil and move into a different place people will recognise you as a stranger and naturally they will report you to the police”.
In 2010 the Australian government returned a young man to Sri Lanka who again fled back to Australia in 2012. On his second attempt he was finally recognised as a refugee, after suffering torture. Another young man deported about 18 months ago is now a recognised refugee in Sweden. The flawed “fast track” process is set up to return people like this to danger.
By Mark Gillespie