Thursday, April 22, 2010

Australia Signals to Sri Lankan Migrants

The Australian Government has announced it was with immediate effect suspending applications from Sri Lankans, as well as from Afghans, for asylum in Australia. The Australian immigration minister said recently that, Australia has decided to suspend applications for asylum from people of these two countries because of improving political conditions having positive effects in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The minister also added that, Australia was simultaneously sending out a tough message to human smugglers who in recent times had been bringing in more traffic into Australia.

Seeking Asylum in Country
The latest Australian Government decision bars those arriving illegally in Australia from seeking asylum in the country. Those who seek asylum in this manner would be deported to their home countries. The decision of the Australian Government which became effective on 8 April will be in force for three and six months respectively for Sri Lanka and Afghanistan. The Australian Government will consider a review its decision and is likely to extend the period barring Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers from Australia should conditions in those two countries improve further.

Since Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd took power in Canberra, the Australian Government has been consistently pitted against the escalating recurrence of illegal immigrants entering the country and seeking asylum there.

Meanwhile, Australian political parties charge that Rudd's soft stance on the issue had led to an increase in the influx of boat people into Australia who then sought asylum and thus created a huge problem for the government. Against this backdrop, the Rudd administration came down hard against the menace if illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan in a move to creep out of mounting internal political pressure on it to resolve the issue. The move has naturally resulted in a response, for and against it, from the international community.

Amnesty International Criticizes Action
Amnesty International has come out critically against the Australian Government's decision with its Asian region's director, saying the decision contravened a UN ruling in 1951 relating to migrants from one country to another. The decision could be construed as an effort to stem the flow of illegal immigrants creeping into Australia, since even the large number of applicants seeking asylum on legitimate grounds were hit by the ban.

Amnesty International also warned this decision could set off a ripple effect in other Asian Pacific region countries which also face an asylum seekers problem.

Human Rights Watch has also expressed similar sentiments on the Australian Government's decision and has sent an urgent appeal asking Australia to reconsider it. The South Asian Network for Expatriates (SANE) has also criticized the Aussie decision.

SANE has pointed out that Tamils living in Sri Lanka consider the country unsafe for survival and has claimed that the human rights situation in the country had not shown any tangible improvement as yet.

The journal ACHE published in Australia has also condemned the Australian Government for having imposed what it has called an imprudent and foolish decision.

The journal says that, going by the manner in which journalist in Sri Lanka is being oppressed; one could make an accurate assessment of the negative human rights situation prevailing in the country. ACHE adds in this context that the Australian Government however, did not appear to be concerned about the violation of human rights in Sri Lanka. ACHE adds that these were the real facts of the backdrop against which Australia has clamped down on Lankan political asylum seekers.

Sri Lanka's Reaction
Expressing his views on the Australian decision, Palitha Kohona, Sri Lanka's permanent representative to UN said, Sri Lanka welcomed Australia's new policy adding that it would help bring down the number of Tamils entering Australia illegally. Meanwhile, Indonesia has also hailed Australia's suspension of applications from Sri Lankans seeking asylum in the country.

Indonesia's foreign minister has said Indonesia welcomed the decision taken by Australia adding that it would help Indonesia better handle the problem of boat people who use Indonesian seas to illegally crossover to neighboring countries. He has said the move would also help better track down human smugglers.

Sri Lankan Ambassador in Australia Senaka Walgampaya and Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary Romesh Jayasinghe, have also welcomed the Australian decision. While the debate on the Australian decision continues, questions are also being asked about the fate of Sri Lankans who were arrested in Indonesian waters while onboard a vessel that was en route to Australia.

Some reports claimed that 30 Sri Lankans who were onboard the vessel now detained in an Indonesian harbor had escaped as soon as Australia announced its decision. The illegal migrants onboard the vessel had expressed fears about being convicted of illegal immigration in the wake of the Australian decision. They have said they attempted to migrate to Australia with their children as they their lives were in jeopardy in Sri Lanka. It is reported that thousands of illegal immigrants had arrived in Australia by boat during the last few years. It has been found that 20 percent of all illegal immigrants entering Australia were Sri Lankan Tamils.

Australia has identified 133 human smugglers operating in Australia, since 2008. The case of a Sri Lankan human smuggler is to be taken up for hearing in a court in Perth, Australia soon.

According reports published in dailies, if the suspect is found guilty of the charges he will be sentenced to 20 years rigorous imprisonment. At the same time Sri Lanka has also intensified its maritime security to prevent human smuggling by boats.

Australia had also gifted Sri Lanka equipment worth millions of dollars to strengthen its coastal and deep sea monitoring of illegal immigrant traffic. But Sri Lanka finds it difficult to bring down the number of illegal migrants attempting to crossover to Australia via Sri Lankan waters.

Meanwhile, in less than 48 hours since the Australian decision was announced, 45 persons were arrested off the coast of Beruwela while attempting sail away to Australia.

UN Decision
This incident proves that the volume of illegal immigrant traffic seeking entry into Australia will not necessarily change. The Australian decision will however be likely to encourage Sri Lankan illegal migrants to move to other countries.

Meanwhile, moving in step with the Australian decision it was very likely that other countries would also be under pressure to review their policies on illegal immigrants. It is also learned that some western countries had laid down new conditions to grant asylum to Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

It is reported that several countries have taken unofficial decisions against granting asylum to Sri Lankans and that Denmark had also stopped granting asylum to Sri Lankans.

According to a news report, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is studying the situation in Sri Lanka and it will announce its decision shortly as to whether asylum could be granted to Sri Lankan applicants.

Generally, European nations fall in line with any decision adopted by the UN on granting refugee status or political asylum. The decision to be taken by the UNHCR will be a turning point as far as Sri Lankans are concerned. Be that as it may, the Sri Lankan ambassador in Australia has also expressed confidence that the UN will adopt a resolution in favor of Sri Lanka. The signal from Australia could be seen as a warning signal. Sri Lankan will no doubt have to deal with its positive as well as negative facets.

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