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Beaten and spied on, asylum

seekers reveal oppression of being

The Guardian secures interviews with a Tamil and a Sinhalese asylum
seeker Australia handed back to Sri Lanka last month
Sri Lankan naval vessel the Samudra is anchored after transferring 41 would-be asylum seekers
intercepted by Australia to the southern port of Galle on !uly"
Francis Wade in Sri Lanka-#ednesday $ August %&14
The Sri Lankan navy vessel docked late one afternoon in 'atticaloa" A group of 41
men( women and children disembarked( flanked by navy personnel" )rom the shore
they were ordered into vans and driven through the night to Galle on the southern
They continued to a navy camp( where they were held for a while before being driven
on to a school hall( arriving around *pm on $ !uly" +nside( close to 1&& officials from
the criminal investigation wing of the Sri Lankan police force were already waiting(
alerted in advance that a boatload of asylum seekers had been delivered back from
,emonstrators at a rally in
Sydney protest against the Australian government-s treatment of Sri Lankan asylum
seekers" .hotograph/ #illiam #est0A).0Getty
The police then separated the 1 Sinhalese from the four Tamils" The group found
themselves surrounded in the hall" 2ne man( a Tamil from the north-east of Sri Lanka
who called himself 3elson( took a blow to the face from one of the officials( and blood
started to run from the left side of his mouth" Two police officers were shouting at him
from either side" 4The officers were being rotated(5 he recalls( and the same 6uestion
was barked again and again/ 4,id you pay LTT785 4,o you know LTT785 9e
repeatedly denied it( and was kicked in the leg"
Another man was slapped and hit with a water bottle" The Tamils were then taken to
the bathroom and ordered to sit in a line" After five minutes another official arrived and
told them to return to the hall"
3early a month before( on 1% !une( the group of 41 had boarded a small fishing boat
and set off from the Sri Lankan coast for 3ew :ealand( as the Guardian revealed on
%1 !une" They carried with them a tattered 3ew :ealand flag ; proof of their final
destination" The plan had almost come to fruition( but after nine days at sea the boat
e<perienced problems and they radioed the 3ew :ealand coastguard"
The man on the end of the line took their coordinates( a small dot on a vast e<panse of
ocean somewhere east of =hristmas +sland" They were too far away to help( he said>
instead he would contact the Australian guard" The boat then switched tack( knowing
that an interception by Australia would mean they would be sent back to Sri Lanka" A
while later three planes flew overhead( and eventually a ship marked S2S ?arine
came into view"
'ack in the school hall the police continued the barrage of 6uestions" 3elson was
forced to give up the address of his home in a small village on the north-eastern side
of Sri Lanka" 9is wife recalls the moment that same day when two policemen turned
up at the house( sent there by the men 6uestioning 3elson down in Galle" She and her
14-year-old son were at home" The two men entered the front door and began asking
where her husband was" 2ne of the men then feigned a punch at her son" 4They
asked where my father is and + said + didn-t know(5 the boy recalls"
3elson was released on * !uly( three days after coming to shore( and returned to his
village" 9is account of life in the years leading up to his attempted escape is echoed
by Tamils across the island state" +n %&&* the government launched a final( brutal
assault on the the Liberation Tigers of Tamil 7elam @LTT7A in the north-east( not far
from 3elson-s home" Tens of thousands of civilians were kettled into so-called 4no-fire
After promising civilians sanctuary( the Sri Lankan air force rained bombs down on
them" Although the guns fell silent in %&&*( the government maintains a suffocating
pressure on many Tamils"
3elson and the three others on the boat say that long after the war they continued to
be harassed and intimidated on account of their ethnicity( for every Tamil in Sri Lanka
is suspected of being a sympathiser" Things have worsened still since he returned to
his home" 4+ feel scared" They ride past every day on bicycles but don-t say anything"
+-m scared to talk with police"5
The Sinhalese aboard the boat haven-t fared any better" SuCeewa Saparamadu-s
husband remains in Cail( accused of masterminding the plan" She met with the
Guardian in the ruins of a disused house in a village three hours drive from =olombo"
A mother of three( she and her husband were owners of a successful company that
sold forklift trucks( and their children attended international school" 'ut she was a
vocal critic of the government( and relatives of hers had been supporters of the armed
opposition .eople-s Liberation )ront"
Three of her brothers attempted to flee to Australia in late %&1%( but were deported
back and have since disappeared" +n an interview with Australian television in
,ecember %&1% she rounded on an increasingly repressive Sri Lankan government>
after that( 4everything got worse"5
2n two occasions last year( one of her teenage sons was kidnapped and held for
ransom" SuCeewa( her husband and children first attempted to flee in !une %&11(
travelling to the north coast and hiding in a thicket of Cungle one night until the beach
was clear and they could board a vessel anchored off the shore" A group of soldiers
saw them and opened fire" They were brought back to shore( where SuCeewa was
dragged into the Cungle by seven soldiers and assaulted"
The minister for
immigration( Scott ?orrison( speaking to the media in late !une( refused to confirm
claims by refugee activists that a boat carrying Tamil asylum seekers was in trouble"
.hotograph/ ,avid =rosling0AA.
SuCeewa recalls the moment she realised her second attempt to flee would fail"
2fficials from the S2S ?arine ship boarded their boat( searched for weapons and took
their details( refusing their pleas to be taken to +ndonesia or placed in the care of the
The group was held on the boat for several days( but heavy winds whipped up the
ocean and officials wanted them transferred" She and her children were moved to one
small boat( and then to a second" The waves were high and the two boats lurched
back and forth as she tried to get her children from one to the other" They were then
passed to the Australian customs and border patrol and held for nine days before
beginning the Courney back to Sri Lanka"
SuCeewa says that around half those on board were poor( meaning the remainder had
paid above the odds for the cost of the boat" Australia-s policy towards 4boat people5
hinges on the argument that every asylum seeker is an economic migrant ; a claim
countered by the background of SuCeewa and her husband( wealthy and with
substantial business interests in !apan"
7mily 9owie( from the 9uman Eights Law =entre in ?elbourne( says the branding of
4economic migrants5 continues despite evidence that the vast maCority of those arriving
in Australia on boats are genuine refugees"
This means that Australia subCects Sri Lankans who arrive by boat to Fenhanced
screening-( a truncated assessment process in which detainees have no access to a
lawyer and no independent review of the decision"5
That was the e<perience of the 41 asylum seekers" Their fate was decided on the high
seas by officials hundreds of miles away on the Australian mainland who spoke with
them via telephone for 1& minutes" 9owie describes it as 4a flimsy short-cut process
that is woefully inade6uate to ensure that Australia does not return Sri Lankans to ill
treatment or torture"5
=anberra has already deported more than 1(&&& people to Sri Lanka( and is again
under the spotlight after a boatload of 1G Tamils that had been intercepted and held
at sea for nearly a month was brought to shore last week"
Tamil asylum seeker
children from the group of 1G1 held aboard an Australian customs vessel for three
weeks are helped ashore at the =ocos +slands" .hotograph/ ?ichael Safi0The
After harrowing reports of their treatment at sea by Australian officials( they were sent
to a detention centre in 3auru( and the Australian government will decide whether to
hold them there indefinitely or deport them back to Sri Lanka"
The D3 high commissioner for human rights( 3avi .illay( spoke in ?arch of her
concern at Australia-s asylum policy" 9owie said the fact that .illay 4raised Australia in
a statement that also addressed human rights crises in Dkraine( Syria( 3orth Horea
and Sri Lanka shows the level of seriousness with which these issues are perceived
)or SuCeewa( the harassment continues" She didn-t return to her house after her
meeting with the Guardian( and later neighbours told her that police had arrived asking
what she had told 4that foreigner5"
Similar events occurred over the following days/ plain-clothed men would follow her to
the bus stop and stand ne<t to her in the 6ueue( leaving only when she boarded the
bus ; a common tactic in Sri Lanka( where the intelligence apparatus is geared more
towards intimidation than surveillance"
)or her and others aboard the boat( the end of the war( celebrated so rapturously by
the government( has brought little improvement to their lives ; rather( the victory over
the LTT7 has been used by the government to proCect a veneer of stability to other
countries( Australia included" SuCeewa believes this is false/ 4#hat you see on the
television screen about Sri Lanka( that it-s beautiful and developing( isn-t what it-s like
; it-s got a very dark inside"5
+f Australia does deport the 1G Tamils now on 3auru( they will automatically be
arrested upon return" That is always the first punishment ; the Sri Lankan government
appears to see the decision to leave illegally as evidence of their guilt of a past crime"
Thus the cycle will continue interminably ; criminalised by Sri Lanka for fleeing( and
then again by Australia for seeking refuge"
Posted by Thavam

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