Hanging refugees out to dry, courtesy of the Australian authorities

This proposed collusion between the UN and Australia, to remove a potential headache for Kevin Rudd in an election year, should be condemned in the strongest possible sense.

Sri Lanka and Afghanistan remain highly dangerous nations for minorities and dissidents. The idea that the Australian government will be sending refugees back to their nations of origin is morally repugnant and possibly even illegal, especially if the individuals face a serious risk of persecution when back home (as has happened many times before):

The United Nations refugee agency is looking at changing its international protection guidelines for Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers.

The changes would pave the way for Australia to send many more of the detainees on Christmas Island back to where they started.

The Tamil Association is urging against any change to the guidelines, saying it is no safer for Tamils in Sri Lanka.

The protracted civil war in Sri Lanka ended last May with the Tamil Tigers admitting defeat. The UN Refugee Agency has decided it is time to review the guidelines for assessing the international protection of Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

The regional representative for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Richard Towle, says January’s presidential election is a key factor in the UN’s reassessment.

“Well, I don’t want to pre-empt what the guidelines will say, but clearly there has been a significant number of people who’ve left the camp populations in Sri Lanka, and are in the process of returning to their places and regions of origin,” he said.

“There’s a long way to go in terms of a rehabilitation and dealing with humanitarian issues, but it’s certainly moving in the right direction and we think any review of the guidelines needs to reflect these positive changes.”

The UN is a key source of evidence used by Australia to determine refugee claims.

Since the beginning of 2009, 843 Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been intercepted on their way to Australia and sent to Christmas Island. Just over a third have so far been granted refugee status and visas.

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