Being Tamil in Australia isn’t a crime (pass it along)

Some timely reading on the ways in which Australia deals with the Tamil question.

First, a reminder of what’s at stake (in Murdoch’s Herald Sun, no less):

Thousands of desperate Tamil refugees in Sri Lanka have a stark choice: stay and be persecuted or risk the long, dangerous voyage to Australia.

A senior diplomat, experienced in people smuggling matters, said Sri Lanka’s government cared about neither the refugees’ fate nor Australia’s boat people predicament.

Naval intelligence sources told the Herald Sun that Colombo encouraged Tamils to risk the dangerous voyage.

Some Tamil boats have disappeared, though no one knows how many might have perished.

“The only way forward is through multilateral diplomacy using Indonesia, Thailand and even New Zealand to lobby the Sri Lankans,” said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Second, a necessary humanitarian plea:

This is a letter that was sent by a Sri Lankan lawyer to an Australian refugee activist. His name has been censored to protect his identity.

This letter below is from a Sri Lankan lawyer who has assisted people who have been returned and whose lives have been placed in danger as a result. He does this work after hours pro bono. He has asked her to circulate this letter so that Australians get an understanding of the conditions and uncertainty facing Tamils who are deported and why they are leaving.

Today is a very sad day for one young asylum seeker on Christmas Island. He learnt yesterday that his 14 year old brother had been kidnapped and then murdered. He comes from a well off Tamil family. The inability and unwillingness of the Sri Lankan authorities to protect Tamils is another reason why they are fleeing from their lives.

Father Jim said prayers for the boy yesterday afternoon in Alpha Compound. He said that when the men heard about the death, there was a silence then tears and weeping as the men thought of their own families at risk back in Sri Lanka.

Dear [Australian refugee activist]

A friend of mine called me today and said that he was in Sydney and was on a UN mission which means that the UN is also supporting the Bali Process and trying to stop refugees leaving Sri Lanka. Returnees are complaining to me that they can not live in Sri Lanka and need to leave the country. Some of them will try to take boats again. Every moment someone is trying to go to Australia by boat. Two weeks back two boats reach to Australia. As far as I know an Australian Television team is coming to do a programme called 60 Minutes on Sri Lankan boat people. Every body wants to stop Sri Lankans going to Australia but nobody is trying to change the Sri Lankan government’s attitude on Human Rights for the Tamil people – rights are denied such as when the government takes their lands and gives this land to foreigners for hotel projects. Tamils can not say no as we Singhalese can, because they are Tamils who have been defeated and as such they can not open their mouths.

The Australian Government has provided the Coast Guard System to Sri Lanka. The Australian High Commissioner donated this system to the Sri Lankan Government. They said that it is for the safety of the Sri Lankan coast but actually it is to stop Sri Lankans sailing to Australia.

The Australian High Commissioner said at the Australia Day celebrations that Australians are a very peculiar nation in that they eat their own national symbol. That night they provided Kangaroo meat as well as Crocodile meat for dinner. As others have said Australians are a peculiar in another aspect also. This is that they were boat people at one stage of their nation when they grabbed the land from the Indigenous people when they came by boat from UK. Now they do not want the Sri Lankans to come by boat.

Please tell people that they can contact me for legal assistance. I am still making efforts to have the imprisoned returnee released but the Sri Lankan government have charged him with aiding and abetting so it is a struggle.

Name withheld

Attorney at Law

An article from a prominent Australian lawyer, Brian Walters, damns the federal government for shamelessly pursuing frivolous terror cases against the Tamil people:

Clearly, Australia should not have permitted its resources to be diverted to assist in a civil war. Nonetheless, the AFP embarked on a multi-million-dollar spending odyssey in response to the Sri Lankan High Commissioner’s complaint, including multiple overseas trips by several officers. According to answers produced in parliament, the AFP spent no less than $5,271,706.91 on its investigation.

The Australian Attorney-General has the controversial power under the Criminal Code to list an organisation as terrorist. Both the current and previous incumbents have considered proscribing the LTTE but declined to do so, even after considering material that went well beyond evidence admissible in court. In fact, the LTTE are not proscribed in most countries around the world.

Members of the Tamil community, accordingly, thought they were entitled to deal with the LTTE – which was, after all, the de facto government of their homeland. Nonetheless – even though the Attorney-General had never listed the LTTE as a terrorist organisation, and even though at the time of the alleged offences the LTTE was not proscribed as terrorist even in Sri Lanka – the AFP set out to prosecute, under the Criminal Code, those men alleged to have sent aid to the LTTE.

In the end, the anti-terrorism laws that we have passed, and the large agencies which have been staffed to enforce them, have resulted in Australia taking sides with war criminals and adding to the misery of a terrible humanitarian crisis.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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