February 16, 2015
Monday 23rd Feb, 7pm, Australian Nurses Federation, 540 Elizabeth Street, Melbourne (opposite Vic Markets)
Sri Lanka has a new leader now. Why is it still not safe for Tamils there? How important is it that we mobilise to stop Tamil asylum seekers from being deported? What happens to Tamil asylum seekers who get returned to Sri Lanka? If they are being returned to Sri Lanka, does that mean they were not genuine refugees anyway? What happened to the boat of 157 Tamil asylum seekers who were detained at sea? What will happen to the ASIO refugees given security clearance and released from detention after Morrison’s Migration Amendment Bill passed?
Understanding of the Tamil refugee struggle is central to the campaign for refugee rights in Australia. Join us to discuss the answers to these questions and more!
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In recent years, thousands of people, mainly members of the Tamil minority, have fled from Sri Lanka to Australia by boat.
Why do they flee?
Sri Lanka has a long history of discrimination against Tamils. In 1948 Tamil plantation workers were deprived of citizenship. In 1956 Sinhalese was made the sole official language, denying the Tamil language equal status.
Peaceful protests against discrimination were met with violent repression, by the army and police and by racist mobs. In response, some Tamil youth took up arms and formed the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which fought for an independent Tamil homeland in the north and east of the island. After nearly 30 years of war, the LTTE were defeated in 2009.
Following the victory of the Sri Lankan government, the Tamil areas are under military occupation. Land belonging to Tamils has been seized for new military bases, Sinhalese settlements and commercial enterprises.
Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have documented the widespread use of arbitrary detention, murder, torture, rape, and disappearances, carried out by the army and its collaborators. The 2014 HRW World Report stated that in Sri Lanka, “Torture, rape, and ill-treatment in custody by the security forces remain widespread”. While Tamils are the main victims of such practices, members of other ethnic groups who were critical of the government have also suffered.
Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers
Some asylum seekers have been sent back to Sri Lanka with no chance to present their case for refugee status. Many others are currently held in detention centres in Australia, or on Manus Island or Nauru. Some who have been officially recognised as refugees are nevertheless detained indefinitely because ASIO claims (without explanation or evidence) that they are a threat to security. It seems they are being punished for having participated in the Tamil independence struggle.
Many other asylum seekers are living in the Australian community, but with the threat of deportation hanging over their heads, and often living in extreme poverty.
New Sri Lankan government.
On January 8, 2015, a new president was elected in Sri Lanka. Maithripala Sirisena replaced Mahinda Rajapaksa.
Some Australian commentators have claimed that with the new government, asylum seekers have no reason to fear returning home. But this is premature, to say the least.
Sirisena was a minister in the Rajapaksa government for nearly ten years. He shares the responsibility for all the crimes of that government, including the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians in the final stages of the war, and the crimes committed during the ongoing military occupation of the Tamil areas. He was acting defence minister during the closing days of the war, when the massacre of Tamils was at its height.
Sirisena has said he will keep a large military presence in Tamil areas. Since the army is the perpetrator of horrendous crimes against Tamil people, its very presence is a cause of fear. Since the election there have been reports of continuing sexual harassment of Tamil women by the army, as well as reports of Tamil farmers being driven from their land at gunpoint.
No deportations! Free the refugees!
People who have fled from violence and terror should not be sent home against their will. They should be able to decide for themselves if and when they feel it is safe to return. They should be given permanent residency and welfare and work rights, so they can build a new life in Australia