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Australia slammed for ‘insensitive’ games and film competition in asylum seeker campaign

The Australian government has come under criticism after the launch of a website that includes video games and a film competition, supposedly to deter asylum seekers from Sri Lanka fleeing the island.

The website – www.zerochance.lk – includes a Pacman-style video game where the player attempts to reach Australia by boat and is “caught by border patrol”, has their boat hit by a storm, or a number of other tragic endings.

The initiative also saw the launch of a film competition, calling for “budding filmmakers from around Sri Lanka” to submit a short movie. The competition however stipulates that “the Short Film MUST be based on the theme 'Illegal Migration to Australia' showcasing the futility of making such a journey”.

It goes on to suggest a few points to include such as “getting caught by people smugglers, risking your life in the rough seas, the effect on the lives of families / loved ones, issues faced after being sent back to Sri Lanka”.

The initiative has been widely slammed.

“This is as shocking as it is insensitive,” said one Tamil activist, who wishes to remain anonymous. “People are fleeing genocide. These are real human lives, not video games. Australia has a duty to assist them, not to send them back to danger or ridicule their struggle to escape. The draconian policies must stop.”

The latest campaign comes as asylum seekers, mainly Tamils, continue to flee Sri Lanka as human rights organisations around the world documented ongoing human rights violations and militarisation of the island.

Australia, however, continues to have harsh immigration laws with Tamil families such as the Biloela family continuing to be denied the right to remain in the country, despite the risk of ill-treatment if deported to Sri Lanka.

In August, Koneshwaran Krishnapillai, a Tamil refugee and father of three, died after setting himself on fire, following years of uncertainty regarding his immigration status in Australia.

Earlier this year, a British tribunal also raised details around the role of the Australian government, which also continues to foster close relationships with Sri Lanka, supplying the island’s security forces with five aerial drones earlier this year.

The ruling from the tribunal, which found that Tamils who engage in a range of political activities in the United Kingdom may continue to face “a real risk of ill-treatment or harm” if deported to Sri Lanka, sharply criticised the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Country Information Report on Sri Lanka, stating “none of the sources are identified, there is no explanation as to how the information from these sources was obtained, and there is no annex containing, for example, records of any interviews.”

“Indeed, it is unclear whether any formal interviews took place,” the Tribunal continued.

“The report does not provide direct quotes from any source. In light of these matters, it is difficult to gauge the reliability of the sources which have informed the “judgement and assessment” applied to them by the authors of the report.””

“We’ve said over many years that the DFAT report doesn’t reflect the reality for Tamils in Sri Lanka,” said Aran Mylvaganam from the Tamil Refugee Council, one of several organisations to reiterate their concerns over the Australian report. “It is written to undermine Tamils’ protection claims. Successive Australian governments have used DFAT reports to justify deportation of Tamils back to danger.”

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