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April 22, 2010

VILLAWOOD TAMIL HUNGER STRIKE CONTINUES

by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

Media Release April 22, 2010

Nine Tamil asylum seekers are on their third day of a hunger strike protest against the threat of being deported to Sri Lanka. All of them have received letters stating they had been rejected at the so called independent merits review, the last avenue of formal appeal under the off-shore refugee determination procedure.

Another Tamil man who has also been rejected at the review hearing was taken from stage 3 to stage 1 last night (Wednesday 21 April) – a move that is usually precedes deportation.

The nine men on hunger strike since Monday night are maintaining their 24 hour protest on the basketball court of the stage 3 compound of the detention centre.

A banner in English and Tamil reads, “Refugees Deserve a Fair Go; Stop Using Us for Your Political Gain” and “More than 88000 Tamils are in Internment Camps. Don’t Deport to Death and Torture in Sri Lanka.”

“Sri Lanka is not a safe place for us. There are many human rights problems,” one of the hunger strikers told the Refugee Action Coalition.

The hunger strikers have sent a letter (text below) to the immigration Minister urging him to review their cases.

“The Refugee Action Coalition is also urging the Minister to reconsider these cases. Australia has an obligation under the Refugee Convention not to return people to danger. Sri Lanka is not a safe place for Tamils. Chris Evans has the power to grant humanitarian visas. They have already been in detention almost eight months,” said Ian Rintoul, spokesperson for the Refugee Action Coalition.

“The government issues travel warnings for Australian tourists but is willing to deport the people who are the victims of political repression by forces associated with the government,” said Rintoul.

The hunger strike also highlights the deficiencies of off-shore refugee processing which gives asylum seekers fewer rights that they would have if they landed on the mainland.

“Off shore processing maintains the adversarial approach to refugee determination. Other problems include lack of legal and at their first interview when people are most vulnerable. There are problems with translations and the use of questionable country background information. And there is judicial oversight at all. In fact the whole procedure rests on Ministerial discretion.”

“The government is aware that some asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka have been arrested and beaten. There is no room for mistakes with deportations. The government is playing with people’s lives.”

“We are extremely concerned that the deportations are being driven by domestic and international political considerations. The government is more concerned with its relations with the Sri Lankan government than the rights of asylum seekers.”

For more information contact Refugee Action Coalition: Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713

Asylum Seekers Letter to Immigration Minister:

Dear Mr. Evans,

We Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers are seeking recognition as refugees and beginning a fast unto death if our request is not met. We fled persecution in Sri Lanka based on race and language. Where is the justice in sending us back to this country?

Our requests:

Reconsider our application for refugee status
Not be deported back to Sri Lanka
Provide us with a delegation that includes representatives from the
Australian Government, UNHCR, our lawyers, and independent groups such as
human rights watch and amnesty international.

This is a peaceful protest. This a protest for our rights. We never participated in any violence. We are making these requests to save our lives.

Please accept our requests. It has been 8 months since we sought asylum in Australia. Please give us humanitarian visas on a humanitarian basis.

Yours truly
Sri Lankan Tamil Asylum Seekers
Villawood Detention Centre

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