One year after the war, Sri Lanka is not safe for deported asylum seekers

On the first anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka's civil war, Edmund Rice Centre director, Phil Glendenning, who recently returned from Sri Lanka, said tonight that the country is not safe for deported asylum seekers.

“The position taken by Minister Evans yesterday - in urging caution about returning asylum seekers connected to the Tamil Tigers - is a very sound and welcome development. However, based on our experience, similar reservations need to be extended to all those who left Sri Lanka by unauthorized means,” Mr Glendenning said.

"On the ground in Sri Lanka, the attitude held by the authorities is that any Tamil who fled the country in an unauthorized way must be an LTTE sympathizer, or if they are Singhalese, then they must be a traitor,” he said.

“On our most recent visit we found that all asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka in recent months, are handed over to the CID, the Sri Lankan Police, and taken into custody. Some are detained, some have been assaulted. One man who is still in jail has lost the hearing in one ear given the severity of the assault he suffered, and another has received damage to his sight.” 

At this time, we hold grave concerns for the ongoing safety of these people, and of all deported asylum seekers to Sri Lanka. The absence of war there, does not mean peace,” Mr Glendenning stated.

The Sri Lankan Government was a party to one of the most brutal wars the world has seen in the past 100 years. In the absence of independent international observers being allowed in, to investigate the human rights situation, any guarantee from the Government of Sri Lanka about the safety of people they regard as their enemies cannot be taken seriously,” Mr Glendenning said. “The Government fears the Tamil Tigers re-emerging from the diaspora. Therefore, those who left are regarded as being sympathizers to the LTTE.

Anyone who publicly dissents from the Government’s position is at risk. Since the end of the war, journalists have been kidnapped and assassinated, human rights workers have been jailed for months without charge and without trial, and even non-violent political opponents of the Government have been imprisoned. These are not signs of democracy in action.“

Detention can be indefinite and court processes are heard within the prison itself. No legal arguments are taken, and most often magistrates just continue to postpone the cases to a later date,” Mr Glendenning added. 

Mr Glendenning supported the calls made earlier this week by the International Crisis Group for an inquiry into war-time human rights abuses. “There needs to be an independent international inquiry into alleged human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, and unless and until human rights can be guaranteed, nobody should be returned,” he said.

The recent announcement by Minister Evans, of Australia's three-month suspension of processing of asylum claims of Sri Lankans, is inconsistent with yesterday’s announcement. Rather we call on the Minister to suspend Australia's deportations to Sri Lanka and to Afghanistan. We have refugee law. It respects international law,” he affirmed. 

We know that of the asylum seekers removed by Australia back to Sri Lanka in the Howard years, nine were later killed. We cannot go back to this. We cannot allow the lives of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers – and Afghanis for that matter - to become an auctionable item again in an Australian election campaign,” Mr Glendenning concluded.

Over the past eight years the Edmund Rice Centre has conducted research in 22 countries into what happens to Australia's rejected asylum seekers. Two major reports have been published - Deported to Danger and Deported to Danger II – leading to the making of a television documentary, A Well Founded Fear , which screened nationally in 2008.

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