SRI LANKA has offered Immigration Minister Chris Bowen an escape for Tamil refugees branded a threat by security agencies and locked in indefinite detention in Australia – saying they are needed back home.
”Help is required in Sri Lanka now,” the country’s top envoy to Australia, Thisara Samarasinghe, told The Age.
”Those who have got a negative assessment, please come back to Sri Lanka. Even if you have been sent out from the place, you will be treated justifiably and fairly and you will be permitted to meet up with your families. Of course, law of the land will prevail.”
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Admiral Samarasinghe said he spoke to Mr Bowen several months ago about the impasse created by the several dozen Tamils who fled Sri Lanka’s bloody civil war and were recognised as refugees, only to be deemed a threat by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
He reiterated the offer to bring them home in a telephone conversation last month ahead of a visit by Mr Bowen to Colombo.
The Tamils – who make up the majority of the 47 refugees given an adverse assessment by ASIO – have been refused a visa for release into the Australian community. They are not permitted to see the evidence against them and are effectively barred from appeal.
But the offer of return is cold comfort to Australia, which would be breaking its international obligations under the refugee convention to send them back to Sri Lanka.
Rachel Ball, from the Human Rights Law Centre, said any diplomatic assurance was meaningless after a person was found to be a refugee, with Sri Lanka already found not able to provide protection.
Mr Bowen’s office also made clear yesterday the government would not be pursuing Admiral Samarasinghe’s offer.
But the legal limbo created by the ASIO ruling has taken a toll on those in detention.
A spate of suicide attempts among those black-banned by ASIO have occurred in the past month, including by two Tamil men in a detention centre in Melbourne’s north and a third who threatened to take his own life before being restrained.
Admiral Samarasinghe said the option to return them home should not be ruled out given Sri Lanka had ”rehabilitated” nearly 11,000 people said to be former Tamil Tiger fighters.
”This is a record that no country in the world can match,” he said. ”That is the extra mile that the Sri Lankan government is going in reconciliation, but the West doesn’t unfortunately appreciate that and give any credit.”
He said Sri Lanka was now free of suicide bombings, unemployment was low and the economy was growing, with the country aiming to become the ”jewel of Asia”.
Admiral Samarasinghe also dismissed the controversy surrounding his appointment as high commissioner to Australia last year, with protests by local Tamil groups over his war record as a naval commander. ”I was credited for rescuing the civilians from terrorists,” he said.
– Meanwhile, federal police said a boat carrying 63 passengers had been intercepted at the Cocos Islands. It is the first boat to arrive at the islands in at least two years and comes as the number of people seeking asylum in Australia continues to surge.