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September 24, 2012


by refugeeactioncoalitionsydney

The Refugee Action Coalition (RAC) has condemned the return of 18 Tamils to Sri Lanka on Saturday morning and called on the government to disclose the exact conditions in which they were returned.

“The government has billed the returns as voluntary,” said Ian Rintoul, speaking on behalf of RAC. “But there is good reason to doubt the government’s claim. The asylum seekers have had no independent legal advice, access to refugee supporters, or the Tamil community.

“Most of the people have only just arrived here after a traumatic ocean crossing, fleeing degenerating conditions in Sri Lanka. People who’ve just fled for their lives aren’t in the best state to make informed decisions about their welfare. This is more like coercion than informed consent. The public needs to know just what the Tamils were told about the circumstances of their return. What exactly were they told? ”

“There is ample documentation of asylum seekers being tortured on return to Sri Lanka,” Rintoul continued. “A report by the Sydney Morning Herald in July uncovered ‘systematic state-sanctioned abuse’ by the Rajapaksa regime. This adds to the mass of documentation of human rights abuses in the country, including torture, rape, intimidation and abduction. The United Nations Committee against torture has urged Australia in the past not to deport Tamils to Sri Lanka.

“Independent reports by the BBC, The Independent newspaper in the UK, and by organizations like Human Rights Watch, Freedom from Torture and the Catholic Church leave no doubt that Sri Lanka remains a murderous environment for opponents of the government. This is a country where 146,000 people remain unaccounted for.

“The fact is that there are still almost 2000 Sri Lankans in the Australian immigration system”, Rintoul added. “The vast majority of them will be found to be refugees. The role of the Sri Lankan government in persecuting the Tamil opposition couldn’t be clearer. The Sri Lankan government has refused to systematically investigate either war crimes, or the abductions of political opponents. The BBC reported in March that government soldiers were caught red-handed in a foiled abduction attempt.”

“By returning asylum seekers to Sri Lanka, the Australian government is complicit in these human rights abuses.

“These returns highlights one of our most serious concerns about off-shore processing. How much pressure is being applied to Tamils already on Nauru to “voluntarily” return home? Under the Howard government, hundreds of Afghans on Nauru were coerced into “voluntarily returning to Afghanistan – some to their death.”

For more information contact Ian Rintoul 0417 275 713, or Nick Reimer 0435 533 027

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