The "tough talk" over the case of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and
Where was this "tough talk" when Tamil civilians in
It is the extreme, so-called "push factors" and the entrenched discrimination against Tamils in Sri Lanka that leads to desperate acts, such as embarking on a dangerous voyage on unsafe vessels.
Human Rights Organisations, such Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have repeatedly expressed their concern about the conditions in the camps. Both organisations have repeatedly called for the release of Tamil civilians from the internment camps and have accused the Sri Lankan Government of falsely claiming that it had allowed thousands of detained civilians in the camps to return home. In reality, many of the people that the Government claims to have released have been transferred from one detention camp to another, a so-called "way station". Asia director at Human Rights Watch Brad Adams has said: "While the Government has the right to screen the displaced persons for security reasons, the process has turned into a ruse to hold as many Tamils for as long as possible in the camps. The Government's untruthful statements and promises should not fool anybody anymore."
Amnesty International has stated that the camps are filthy, overcrowded and dangerous. Heavy rains in September caused rivers of water to cascade through the tents, forcing camp residents to wade through sewage. Monsoon rains are expected to start soon, threatening to flood the camps. One escapee told Amnesty that some women are forced to give birth in front of strangers without privacy.
All international media and non-governmental organisations have been locked out of the camps, ensuring that the suffering of the people is far from public attention. The Times newspaper in
In addition, earlier this week, in a 70-page report, the US Government was highly critical of the Sri Lankan Government. The report alleged that Sri Lankan Government forces abducted and killed ethnic Tamil civilians, shelled and bombed no-fire zones, and killed senior rebel leaders with whom they had brokered a surrender. The report describes a hellish scene, in which a no-fire zone, crowded with civilians, was struck by sustained shelling and bombing. It estimated that 100 people per day were killed by Sri Lankan army shelling and bombing. Hospitals in the area were continually struck by shells, even though their locations had been carefully reported to the Government.
Many of the critics of the 260 asylum seekers label them "queue jumpers". How can one jump a queue, when one was never allowed to join the queue? The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), which is responsible for processing the claims of refugees, is not allowed in the camps.
The Australian Government's response has been to pledge to send Australian police to
People do not flee their home countries lightly. Demonising asylum seekers or people smugglers does not help the situation. We need to understand the conditions that force people to flee their home countries. The definition of a refugee is someone who flees persecution. It would be worth examining why Sri Lankan Tamils fear persecution. The Australian Government should look carefully at the situation in
David Feith is the author of Conflict in