Melbourne, Friday – Four asylum-seekers immediately returned to Sri Lanka after being intercepted on a boat at sea by Australian authorities near the Cocos Islands earlier this month face jail and torture, the Tamil Refugee Council said today.
“This is another shameful act by a callous Australian government,” said Tamil Refugee Council convenor, Trevor Grant.
“It’s a documented fact that asylum-‐seekers often face horrendous consequences when they are sent back. Immediately upon return, they are locked up and charged. Then they face two years ‘rigorous’ imprisonment in a jail system renowned for torture, rape and disappearances.
“Three Tamils from Sri Lanka who have experienced this system self-immolated in the streets of Melbourne and Sydney last year because of a fear of being sent back.
“I have interviewed many Tamils who have suffered torture at the hands of the Sri Lankan police and military. One had hot iron rods slammed across his back during one session in a police station only 18 months ago. I saw the fresh scars. This is a reality for so many Tamils, including those sent back.
“The Australian government continues to trot out the fantasy that the process of interviewing these people at sea on a satellite phone and asking a few loaded questions is consistent with its Refugee Convention obligations to assess whether these people have a well-founded fear of persecution if returned.
“As was outlined late last month (in ‘The Saturday Paper’) by two of the 40 asylum-seekers on one boat Australia returned to Sri Lanka last year, this so-called ‘enhanced screening’ process is an outrageous breach of their rights.
“One of the men revealed that the phone dropped out ’10-15 times’ during his interview and he struggled to hear the person on the other end of the line.
“The recent election of a new president in the country – Maithripala Sirisena – brings no perceptible change for these people.
“Sirisena was a senior minister for 10 years in the cabinet of the man he replaced, Mahinda Rajapaksa. He has a made a point of saying he will maintain the military occupation in the north and east and the draconian Prevention Of Terrorism Act. These are the main drivers of the terror that sends these people, who are mostly Tamil, fleeing from the island.”
For further information: Tamil Refugee Council, 0400 597 351.