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Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s enthusiastic embrace of Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe is reprehensible, the Tamil Refugee Council said today.

Turnbull this morning landed in Colombo to celebrate the seventy-year relationship between the two countries and to discuss deepening ties in numerous areas, including military engagement and “people smuggling”.

Almost a decade after civil war ended with genocidal war crimes, the Sri Lankan regime is continuing the decades-long oppression of Tamils in the north and east of the country. In December, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment noted the lack of “minimal guarantees of protection against the power of the state, in particular its security forces”.

Last year, non-profit organisation People for Equality and Relief in Lanka noted:

“Human rights violations in the north-east have continued, including violence and harassment by members of the security forces, occupation of traditional Tamil lands acquired illegally, torture and sexual violence of Tamils … and the continued detention of Tamil political prisoners without charge.”

Turnbull’s visit is an exercise in whitewashing these realities.

“Every nod of international support the Sri Lankan regime receives allows for the continuing genocide of the Tamil population in the north and east of the country,” TRC spokesman Aran Mylvaganam said. “Every friendly gesture helps normalise and entrench the dominance of the Sinhalese majority and strengthens the repressive ethno-chauvinist state.”

Turnbull’s visit and his focus on “people smuggling” are unsurprising – many refugees that the Australian government holds on Manus Island and Nauru fled this very regime.

“As the situation in the Manus Island detention camp deteriorates – food, water, medicine and power supplies have been cut off – people are pleading for help,” Mylvaganam said. “Instead, Turnbull is embracing war criminals responsible for their flight.

“Despite the well-documented dangers Tamils face in Sri Lanka, dozens of Tamil asylum seekers continue to languish in Australian detention centres and are threatened with deportation.

“So in Colombo today we witness two devils embrace – the leaders of two regimes collaborating in the business of misery and torment.”

The Tamil Refugee Council is calling on the Australian government to:

  • End all collaboration with the Sri Lankan government until it stops its oppression of and discrimination against Tamils and other minorities in the country
  • Bring to Australia all asylum seekers held On Manus Island and Nauru
  • Grant permanent protection visas to all Tamil asylum seekers

Media contact: Aran Mylvaganam 0410 197 814

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