Australia & Tamil refugees: what the media is saying

FILE IMAGE; NOT FROM 2014: Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka at a police station in Colombo, after being arrested for attempting to sail to Australia by boat. Photograph: Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters
FILE IMAGE; not from 2014: Asylum seekers from Sri Lanka at a police station in Colombo, after being arrested for attempting to sail to Australia by boat. (Dinuka Liyanawatte/Reuters)

With reports that Australia has returned more than 150 Tamils seeking asylum from Sri Lanka, back to the Sri Lanka, the spotlight on Australia’s ‘draconian measures’ (as the New York Times puts it) towards refugees has been in the national and global spotlight. And it hasn’t been ignored by the UNHCR — the United Nation’s Refugee Agency — either.

Here are just some of the stories from the past week — Saturday to Saturday — reporting on Australia’s bold, but silent, new approach:

A boat carrying 153 was in trouble off a remote Australian island, according to activists, but the government said there were no significant incidents at sea to report. ‘Migrant boat hits trouble on way to Australia’, Al Jazeera English, 28 June 2014

The Labor MP Alannah MacTiernan, who was on Christmas Island on Saturday night, said immigration staff on the island were “on standby waiting for instructions” and had been told both boats had been intercepted.‘Asylum seeker boat not heard from in 24 hours amid silence from government’, The Guardian (AU), 29 June 2014

Unlike Britain’s David Cameron, who used a visit to Sri Lanka last year to raise concerns about alleged widespread human rights abuses against the Tamil minority, Mr Abbott has strongly backed the Sri Lankan government.‘Tony Abbott accused of handing Tamil asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka’, The Telegraph (UK), 2 July 2014

If they have been sent back and given over to the Sri Lankan navy, we can’t believe that our government, the Australian government, supposed to be a humane government which is a signatory to the UN convention on refugees, are doing this — ‘Reported forced return of Tamil asylum seekers shocks Tamil Congress’, SBS Australia, 2 July 2014

(PM Abbott) went on to argue that turning boats around, returning asylum seekers to Sri Lanka and the rapid on-board screening process were all “in accordance with the international law”.‘Australian PM says Lanka is at peace’, Colombo Gazette, 3 July 2014

“something strange happens” in the minds of Australians when it comes to asylum seekers who arrive by boat without a visa. — Australia’s Refugee Problem’, The New York Times, 4 July 2014

We have reached a situation where the government is accused of breaking international law, using the Australian navy, off the Australian coast, and the relevant minister says he will answer questions when he decides an incident is significant, and in his view, this one is not. — ‘Yes. Tony Abbott stopped the boats. But the cost is catastrophic’, The Guardian (AU), 4 July 2014

It reeks of the masters-of-the-universe mentality.‘Abbott government needs to acquire an empathy gene’, The Conversation, 4 July 2014

“There are so many security concerns in Sri Lanka. Recently there have been attacks against Muslim minorities,” she said. She added that she now feared her husband and brother-in-law would be imprisoned and tortured, as other returnees have claimed to have been.‘Sri Lankan Tamil would-be refugees thought they were bound for New Zealand’, The Australian, 4 July 2014

(Sri Lankan) Government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said on Thursday that the navy had agreed to accept the asylum seekers but changed his response after questioning from reporters. — ‘Reports of Australia sending Tamil asylum seekers to Sri Lanka draws fire from UN, The Globe and Mail (Canada)’, 4 July 2014

Under its policy of not commenting on “operational matters”, Canberra has refused to confirm the boats exist, sparking criticism from the UN refugee agency UNHCR. — ‘UNHCR ‘concern’ over Australia’s handling of Sri Lankan refugees, South China Morning Post’, 4 July 2014

Australia is rapidly becoming an international pariah, riding roughshod over solemn treaty obligations into which it has entered like the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the UN Refugee Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. ‘Asylum seekers: my country, my shame’, The Age, 4 July 2014

Departmental advice has already determined water processing to be illegal. No advice need be sought to determine the legality or otherwise of refoulement. — ‘Asylum-seeker secrecy borders on inhumane’, The Saturday Paper , 5 July 2014

After finishing his shift on Sydney’s Balmain docks, he soaked himself in petrol, then swallowed some to make sure. In the shipyard beside the water he lit himself up. A suicide note and a letter from the Immigration Department, notifying him that his application for a protection visa had been rejected… ‘Inside the Tamil’s burning protests’, The Saturday Paper, 5 July 2014

The prospect of a risky mid-ocean transfer of Tamil asylum seekers and their return to Sri Lanka has sparked criticism of Australia’s tough immigration policy.  — ‘UN decries reports Australia handing back Sri Lanka Tamil asylum seekers’, The Times of India, 4 July 2014

…Mr Abbott’s comments betray a fundamental misunderstanding about the principles underlying the UN Refugee Convention. — ‘We are abrogating our duty to refugees, The Age‘, 5 July 2014

It is believed two boats carrying the asylum seekers were stopped by Australian authorities in the Indian Ocean and that some passengers were handed over to the Sri Lankan navy. Refugee campaigners say it is a violation of international law. They say at least 11 of those on board had been tortured in Sri Lanka.‘Australia in row over boats carrying Tamil asylum seekers’, BBC News Asia, 5 July 2014

I was not subject to extreme torture like my friends,” he says. “They would take us into a room. They tortured us there. They asked my friend to remove his clothes. They inserted an S-Lon [PVC] pipe through his anus. He was screaming. — ‘Tamil asylum seekers: Ghosts on the high seas’, The Sydney Morning Herald, 5 July 2014

Mr Morrison will fly to the country to attend the commissioning ceremony for the two former Australian Customs patrol vessels gifted to the Sri Lankan government, a spokesman for the Minister said.‘Immigration Minister Scott Morrison to visit Sri Lanka as Government continues silence on Tamil asylum seekers’, ABC Radio Australia, 5 July


Related post from February 2013: ‘Just the facts: Australia and refugees’

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