Australia has followed the UK’s suit by sending back Tamil refugees back to Sri Lanka. This is in spite of evidence that repatriated Tamils are being tortured in Sri Lanka.
In July, the Australian government deported Tamil refugee Dayan Anthony back to Sri Lanka, which may form the start of a worrying trend. The Australian Repatriation Co-Ordination Centre has also been sharing information with the Sri Lankan government about boats smuggling Tamils out of Sri Lanka which has led to their repatriation.
This has prompted a great deal of anti-asylum seeker coverage of the story in the Australian media. Amanda Hodge, writing for The Australian, has been particularly guilty of this one-sided reporting, as she glosses over the dangerous situation in Sri Lanka, stating that “there are no clear reasons” for Tamils to want to flee Sri Lanka after the war. Instead she suggests that this exodus is merely down to economic reasons, as a way to discredit any the justified concerns over their well-being in the north-eastern region. It is clear from her article that she is embedded with the Sri Lankan navy. Given the strong accusations of war crimes levelled against the navy it is highly reasonable to question Ms Hodge’s point of view. The fact that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence decided to press release the article themselves illustrates how much the article can be viewed as totally biased propaganda.
Admittedly The Australian did carry this opinion editorial by Phil Lynch which highlights how Australia is compromising its reputation for human rights by helping Sri Lanka repatriate Tamil refugees. He points out the global concerns over Sri Lanka’s use of torture, citing evidence from the UN committee against torture, Human Rights Watch and the US State Department report on Sri Lanka. We were sent a press release about an asylum seeker who has suffered such torture in Sri Lanka. Hari was sent back to Sri Lanka by the UK who now claims he was beaten with electrical wire and suspended upside down by chains on return.
Such an extensive exploration of the human rights abuses and evidence of torture is a necessary part of the conversation on Australia’s immigration policy however it is one which is sorely lacking in most of Australia’s coverage. Although it is good to see SBS interview Dr. Paikiasothy-Saravanamuttu of the Alternative Policy Centre who explained the fears of Tamils of the militarisation of the north-eastern region of the island the reporter attempt to downplay the troubles in the country is troubling. So much so, in fact, that an open letter from a small group of Australian journalists was sent to SBS complaining about their failure to describe the terrible conditions are for Sri Lankan Tamils back home.
The decision of the Australian government to send Sri Lankan Tamils back is disappointing, as is the right-wing, anti-asylum seeker coverage from the Australian media. The few voices from the Australian media and Sri Lankan civil society speaking up about the real dangers Sri Lankan Tamils face upon repatriation are encouraging but it will take more voices speaking up for the Sri Lankan Tamils sent back before Australia and the UK review their immigration policies on Tamil asylum seekers.