Version 2: prepared by Gillian Appleton for Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group, September 2012, updated December 2012
This paper has been prepared to assist people supporting Sri Lankan Tamils seeking asylum in Australia. It aims to identify the latest reliable research on the current political situation in Sri Lanka, and in particular, on the prospects for asylum seekers who might return to the country, whether through deportation or by choice.
Key points which have emerged from this research are
• the continued dominance of the Sinhalese majority under the authoritarian regime of Mahinda Rajapaska
• continuing violations of human rights since the end of the civil war in 2009, including arbitrary arrests, disappearances, detention without charge, and torture, with the application of repressive legislation in the name of preventing terrorism
• significant evidence that returning asylum seekers, particular those with actual or perceived involvement with the Tamil Tigers, are subject to discrimination, assault, detention and torture, with women particularly at risk.
Section 1: Brief Background
Sri Lanka’s population is 20.8mi, roughly comparable to Australia’s but contained in a tiny area: 65,000 sq km.
The estimated ethnic breakdown of the population is:
• The predominant ethnic group – Sinhalese – 74%;
• Sri Lankan Tamils 12.6% (living primarily in the north and east of the country);
• Tamils of Indian origin: ‘tea Tamils’ (brought in by the British colonists in late C19th as plantation labourers but partly repatriated in the 1940s) – indeterminate percentage, living mainly in the south;
• Sri Lankan Moors 7%.
The original Tamils generally did not mix much with the ‘tea Tamils’ and used to look down on them, but that gradually changed. The ‘tea Tamils’ were not suspected of involvement with the Tigers until towards the end of the war, but nevertheless had incidental problems. They are more likely to speak Sinhalese as well as Tamil. The Tamils who come as asylum seekers are mostly original Tamils. (Information from a confidential source).
Buddhism is the main religion (70%), followed by Hinduism (15%), Islam (7.5%) and Christianity (7.5%).
In this paper ‘Tamils’ will be used to refer primarily to the Sri Lankan Tamils, who have been at the centre of the country’s longstanding ethnic unrest. A civil war focused on the north and east between Tamils and the dominant Sinhalese, effectively began in 1983. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE – ‘Tamil Tigers’) became the most prominent group during the 26-year war, which came to an uneasy end in 2009, with accusations of atrocities, massacres and infringements of human rights on both sides.
A report  by the University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), a leading Sri Lankan human rights group which has spent 21 years exposing abuses by both sides in the civil war, claimed that in the final months of the war, government forces carried out a politically-motivated massacre of surrendering Tamil fighters (since corroborated by other sources, including the BBC). But it also accused the LTTE of torture, murder, and the forced conscription of children, and claimed the rebel group was probably responsible for most of the civilian casualties in the final days of the war, including atrocities such as gunning down civilians who they believed were trying to escape, and throwing grenades into hiding places.
The cessation of major hostilities initially saw improved security conditions in the country and a decrease in the number of Sri Lankans seeking refuge in industrialised countries (2947 applications in January/June 2010 compared with 4573 in same period in 2009). There have however been well-documented continuing human rights violations, particularly against Tamils or those thought to be associated with LTTE. Two paramilitary Tamil groups, TMVP and PLOTE, which worked with the government during the war against LTTE, continue to kill, extort and kidnap Tamils with impunity , and their leaders hold high government positions. A third paramilitary group, Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP) is closely associated with the military and/or police. Its political wing holds several parliamentary seats. According to some humanitarian groups, the EPDP is ‘the most visible, intimidating and powerful’ paramilitary group in Sri Lanka’ .
The President, Mahinda Rajapaska, was elected for a second six-year term in January 2010 , in elections viewed by independent observers as questionable in terms of both breaches of electoral law and associated human rights violations (ranging from harassment of journalists  and activists to killings in Tamil areas .)
In 2010 the government established the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a mechanism described by Amnesty International as ‘seriously flawed and far short of international standards on national commissions of inquiry’. Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group declined an invitation to testify before the LLRC and the Commission’s final report was widely criticised for not sufficiently investigating war crimes and crimes against humanity. Minority Rights Group International noted that it ‘exonerates the government for the manner in which the military campaign was conducted during the period’ .
On 22nd March 2012 the UNHRC adopted a resolution calling on Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations and take additional steps towards justice, accountability and reconciliation. In April a UN expert panel assigned blame for war crimes to both sides and called for an international mechanism to ensure justice .
In May 2012 President Rajapaksa ordered the release of former opposition presidential candidate Sarath Fonseka from jail on the third anniversary of the military defeat of the Tamil Tigers. General Fonseka led the victorious campaign in 2009 as army chief.
In its Progress Report on Sri Lanka (Sept 2011) , the International Crisis Group noted the undertaking of the Sri Lankan Government not to renew the emergency regulations, which lapsed on 31st August, and to ‘function democratically under ordinary law’. The ICG commented that ‘far from reverting to “the ordinary law”, the government has now extended some of the most controversial powers under the emergency regulations by issuing – or proposing to issue – parallel regulations under the similarly repressive Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)’.
The ICG concluded:
Finally, widespread scepticism within Sri Lanka about the government’s willingness to devolve power is also based on the highly authoritarian, centralised and militarised way in which the Rajapaksa regime governs the whole country. Since the end of the war in May 2009, power has been further centralised in the hands of the president, his brothers and the military.
Section 2: Current Situation in Sri Lanka
Violations of human rights continue unabated in Sri Lanka. In attempting to gather the most reliable evidence of the ongoing situation, it is important to note that over time, attacks on foreign aid workers (such as the killing of 17 aid workers in 2006 and a Norwegian aid worker in 2008 ), denial of access to aid organisations, and harassment, intimidation and murders of journalists have made these groups circumspect about reporting what is actually happening .
A detailed 2010 study by the International Crisis Group, based on extensive primary sources, found that post-war Sri Lanka continued to experience physical attacks and death threats against journalists, violation of the privileges and immunities of the UN, and harassment of international NGO staff. ‘The well-founded threat of being detained, if you are Sri Lankan, or forced out of the country, if you are foreign, has led many aid workers to keep quiet. The resulting lack of vigorous internal debate has also undermined the quality of aid agencies’ work.’ 
Despite these constraints there is significant evidence gathered by a range of reputable international aid and human rights organisations, a selection of which summarised below.
US State Department Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2011
Major human rights problems identified in this report  included:
• unlawful killings by security forces and government-allied paramilitary groups, often in predominantly Tamil areas, which led many to regard them as politically motivated, and attacks on and harassment of civil society activists, persons viewed as Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) sympathizers, and journalists by persons allegedly tied to the government, which created an environment of fear and self-censorship;
• disappearances and a lack of accountability for thousands who disappeared in previous years;
• arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens, torture and abuse of detainees, lengthy pretrial detention and poor prison conditions. Some suspects detained by police or other security forces died under questionable circumstances.
UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office
In a report of 30 June 2012  this office noted that the trend of increased abductions or disappearances in Sri Lanka since October (2011) continued into 2012.
According to the Colombo-based Lawyers for Democracy there were 11 reported abductions in January. Victims came from a range of ethnic group and included human rights workers….Campaigners have blamed the rise on pro-government and security forces.
Asian Legal Resource Centre
In June 2012 ACAT-France (Christian Action for the Abolition of Torture), in collaboration with the Asian Legal Resource Centre, released a report  providing a devastating overview of the phenomenon of torture in Sri Lanka. It found that three years after the end of the civil war ‘the use of torture and ill-treatment remains widespread and routine’, with general impunity for the instigators.
Torture is used by security forces across the country to extract information, obtain false confessions to close criminal cases or extort money or favours. Furthermore, the situation is worrying for those suspected of having ties with the LTTE. They are arrested and detained, sometimes in secret, for an unlimited period without access to a lawyer or their families. The use of cruel and degrading treatment is also frequent in prisons and seems to act as a form of detention management.
Victims and witnesses are subjected to intimidation and reprisals. Some have been killed or have disappeared after being kidnapped. In February 2012, a man was kidnapped in front of his wife and children in broad daylight by men armed with assault rifles. He had complained to the Supreme Court after 28 months of arbitrary detention and torture and was supposed to testify two days later before the Court, implicating senior police officers. He has not been seen since. Against this background, many people prefer to remain silent, considering that it is dangerous and pointless to complain. (Our emphasis).
Freedom House: Freedom in the World 2012
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization founded in 1994 and based in the US which speaks out against the main threats to democracy and empowers citizens to exercise their fundamental rights. Its recent report  on Sri Lanka noted:
• Official corruption a continuing concern.
• Significant levels of intimidation of journalists, resulting in increased self-censorship.
• Surveillance, smear campaigns, threats and criminal investigations into the funding of human rights and peace-seeking NGOs.
• Continued detention of thousands of people without charge
• The majority of civilians displaced by the war had returned to their home districts, but many were resettled away from their original homes and faced multiple threats to their physical and economic security.
International Crisis Group (ICG) 
The ICG in its post-war progress report on Sri Lanka of September 2011 also identified continued detention (without charge or access to legal counsel) of thousands of LTTE suspects, including the remaining 3,000 of those detained for “rehabilitation” at the end of the war.
The ICG was concerned about the potential of the Prevention of Terrorism Act which allows arrest for such offences as:
• causing “mischief” to public property
• causing “religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will”
• interfering with “any board or other fixture” in a public place.
The ICG stated that the Act ‘makes confessions to police admissible as evidence, which encourages already endemic torture, permits detention without charge for up to eighteen months….and grants government officials immunity for acts done in good faith and pursuant to any direction or order under the PTA. Hundreds of PTA detainees have been held for years’.
It reiterated its view that the end of the Emergency Regulations had seen little change; indeed similar potential for abuse with impunity remains under the PTA.
Section 3: What Returned Asylum Seekers Can Expect
Preamble: Australia and Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers
In the lead-up to the 2010 election, the Labor Government suspended processing of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, claiming that the situation in that country had changed . According to a DIAC media release  refusals of refugee status ‘dramatically increased’ as a result. In early September 2012 Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop said Australia should no longer grant refugee status to people from Sri Lanka because the civil war was ‘over’. She described the rejection rate for Sri Lankan asylum seekers as ‘extremely high’ and said that the ‘vast majority’ were economic migrants. She proposed that they should be deported before they gain access to Australia’s legal system . Ms Bishop’s statements were endorsed by Opposition leader Tony Abbott .
In 2010-11, 5175 people who arrived by boat (Irregular Maritime Arrivals or IMAs in official parlance) seeking Australia’s protection were put through refugee status determination. Of these, 363 were from Sri Lanka, down from a peak of 919 in 2009-10. To the end of the March quarter in 2011-12, there were 224 requests for refugee determination from Sri Lankans .
Claims of a high rejection rate are at least open to question and should be set in the wider context of the number of boat arrivals and consequent requests for refugee status determination. But more critical is the suggestion that because outright hostilities have ceased asylum seekers are not in danger should they be returned.
In addition to the overall situation outlined in the previous section, there is a significant body of recent evidence that Sri Lankans who have left their country for any reason, including free citizens and asylum seekers, are at risk of serious human rights abuses when they return to the country. While Sri Lankan boat arrivals in Australia include both Tamils and Sinhalese, the emphasis in this paper will be on the situation for Tamils, since all evidence suggests that they are the ethnic group at most risk since the cessation of outright hostilities. They constitute the great majority of Sri Lankan arrivals in Australia.
In early 2011, IRIN (news service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) reported that internationally, the number of Sri Lankan refugees wanting to return home since 2009 was increasing significantly. The number assisted by the UNHCR to return jumped from 843 in 2009 to 2054 in 2010. Most of these came from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu, India. Another 2572 returned of their own accord .
By September 2012, this situation had been significantly reversed, and the numbers returning home had declined markedly . Most Sri Lankan refugees in India told the UN ‘they would rather not return, citing economic hardship and concern over human rights abuses’. On the latter, people mentioned continued human rights abuses in the north of the country including violence and intimidation by the military, a judicial system that denied them basic constitutional rights, and the government’s failure to account for the many thousands of people still missing in the aftermath of the war. Reported illegal land-grabbing in former Tamil areas was another disincentive to return.
Treatment of Returned Asylum Seekers
This section summarises a selection of key recent reports.
Reports vary widely concerning the treatment of returned asylum seekers, starting with procedures at Colombo airport. A Sydney Morning Herald investigative report ‘Asylum Seekers Return to Living Hell’ by Ben Doherty (24 July 2012)  described the experience of three returning asylum seekers, two of whom were arrested at the airport and one at his home. Sumith, a brother of Indika arrested at the airport, was punched, kicked and hit with batons in front of his four-year-old son before being jailed along with his brother. The child remains severely traumatised. The brothers have been in jail for over two years, their only ‘crime’ being to have joined an opposition party and then, after persecution, chosen to leave the country.
The third refugee was tortured by the SIS (State Intelligence Service): kicked in the head, hung upside down and hit with batons from 11am to 3pm. Two men given similar treatment next to him died.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Director Asia, Elaine Pearson, quoted in the same report, said that HRW had documented at least 13 cases of Tamils who have been returned to Sri Lanka and have faced arbitrary arrest, torture, and in some cases rape by government officials.
After media and NGO claims of instantaneous arrest and/or brutal treatment, the British Home Office Border Agency Country of Origin Report of March 2012 quoted a British High Commission (Colombo) letter of 5th January which concluded that
the situation regarding all returnees regardless of race or creed appears to be more relaxed now. There is still inconsistency in the way individuals are dealt with and the British High Commission are aware that some returnees are not even identified by the authorities, or they are allowed to proceed without undergoing the SIS (State Intelligence Service)/CID (Criminal Investigations Department) interviewing process.
The report alluded to six cases of immediate arrest at the airport, all of which allegedly had criminal records or outstanding charges against them. The Canadian High Commission in Colombo offered a similarly bland comment on the airport situation . This does not, of course, offer any insight into what might happen once people have left the airport, as the UK Border Agency itself acknowledges.
Counter evidence is provided by several sources. The Law Society and Trust, a non-profit organisation based in Colombo, in a July 2011 joint submission  prepared with other organisations documenting Sri Lankan human rights for the Research Directorate of the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, wrote:
[i]mmigration authorities are alerted about the impending arrival of those who are deported or who are ‘returned’ as a result of failed asylum processes. They are also identifiable by the fact that they travel on temporary travel documents. These individuals are taken out of immigration queues and subjected to special questioning by the Police, and by members of the Terrorist Investigation Department [TID]. They are almost always detained, sometimes for a few hours, and sometimes for months, until security clearance is obtained. In situations in which most families of the deported/returned persons have been displaced due to the war, are not contactable by telephone, and in which Police records that could attest to their legitimate address and non-involvement in criminal or terrorist activity have often been misplaced due to the constant cycles of displacement undergone by the entire community of the North and East in the past years, obtaining the required security clearance may take months. If there is no family member to follow up, this may lead to indefinite detention.
The same paper recorded an interview with a US academic conducting research into Sri Lanka, who stated that information from sources in the country was that the government had placed former Tamil Tigers who were working for the security forces at the airport to screen people arriving.
If you are a Tamil and have any connection to the Tamil causes, it is very likely that you would be screened at the airport and taken into police custody. It is very hard for anyone that has a connection with the Tamil Tigers to go back to Sri Lanka.
Possibly the most comprehensive and compelling report  was compiled by the organisation Freedom from Torture (FFT) based on forensic documentation by FFT’s Medico-Legal Report Service of 24 Sri Lankan Tamil victims of torture who managed to escape and return to the United Kingdom. Among these were people who had valid UK visas and returned voluntarily to Sri Lanka, usually for family reasons. The period covered was from 2010 to 2012.
Some of the post-arrival arrests/abductions took place in the family home, one at the airport, and some at police stations or checkpoints. The length of detention was an average of 11 days, though one person was detained for 10 months. Perceived or actual involvement with the LTTE appeared to be the reason. Accounts of burnings with hot irons, rape, sexual abuse and long periods of solitary confinement have been commonplace in the testimony of FFT clients.
FFT, which received referrals to help 334 survivors of torture from Sri Lanka in the last two years (the highest rate since the group was founded in 1985), is gravely concerned that individuals forcibly returned to Sri Lanka may face serious risks on their return, and that any torture survivors among them will not have access to adequate rehabilitation services.
“The survivors we work with have fled the most unimaginable horror in Sri Lanka. They are at serious risk of their trauma being compounded if they are returned to the very State responsible for their torture, where they would not have access to the rehabilitative services they desperately need,” Keith Best, Freedom from Torture’s CEO, stated.
In this context, it should be noted that the UK Border Agency in a report  published in October 2012, did not accept evidence presented by Freedom from Torture, Tamils Against Torture and Human Rights Watch calling for a change in its policy on returns to Sri Lanka, claiming inter alia that there was insufficient reliable factual information.
In the same month, a ruling by the UK High Court prevented imminent deportation of a number of Tamils on the grounds that they may be tortured on their return. A lawyer representing one group of Tamils was quoted as saying ‘It is extremely concerning that clients who remain in immigration detention, who have a history of torture and/or mental illness and can also show a history of perceived or actual membership to the LTTE [Tamil Tigers] seem to be routinely put on charter flights’ 
Meanwhile a parliamentary committee report condemned the UK Home Office’s lack of urgency and transparency on the issue, and its ‘unsatisfactory’ assessment of the level of risk to the safety of people removed from the UK.
“We find it unsatisfactory that the government has not been more forthcoming to parliament about its efforts – in general and in specific cases – to assess the level of risk to the safety of those who are removed from the UK,” the committee said.
The report….added that ‘the routine air of the [Foreign Office's] initial responses … has not given us particular confidence that the FCO is being as energetic as it might in impressing upon the UK Border Agency the degree of risk’. 
In November, the World Tamil Conference in London called upon the member states of the United Nations to urgently set up an International Independent Investigation into the complete conduct of the Sri Lankan State. It commented on an announcement that the UN Human Rights Council would review Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record today as part of its Universal Periodic Review, it said
come too late for the tens of thousands who were massacred under the UN watch…… However, what is more alarming presently is the continuing inaction by the international community to arrest the deteriorating situation faced by the Tamil people. What is of utmost importance is an immediate establishment of an international investigative mechanism to send a very clear signal to the Sri Lankan regime that the international community will not stand by any longer allowing the State to continue its programme of Tamil Genocide. Another report in another six months time will be too late for those who would have perished in the hands of the Sri Lankan regime or while trying to flee the island.
Human rights organisations in Australia and the UK have called for a halt on deportations to Sri Lanka. In a media release  detailing torture of two Tamils – a man and a woman – who had been forcibly returned to Sri Lanka, Human Rights Watch’s London Director David Mepham commented: ‘Given we were only able to interview a very small number of Tamils –those who had managed to escape and find their way back to the UK – it is reasonable to assume that the problem of torture facing those returned to Sri Lanka is more widespread.’ He said that ‘in its haste to be tough on failed asylum seekers, the British Government is turning a blind eye to compelling evidence that Tamils deported to Sri Lanka risk torture on arrival’. There have been concerted calls for the UK to cease deporting Sri Lankan asylum seekers in the face of mounting evidence of torture.
In Australia, in a letter to Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop, the Human Rights Law Centre wrote that her proposal of immediate deportation without processing
• would expose at least some asylum seekers to a real risk of torture, persecution or other flagrant human rights violations and therefore violate Australia’s non-refoulement obligations under international law;
• would be incompatible with the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and Australia’s own Racial Discrimination Act;
• is not supported by the substantial credible evidence which shows that arbitrary arrests, detention, disappearances and even torture and extrajudicial killings remain widespread in Sri Lanka; and
• is not supported by the rate at which asylum seekers from Sri Lanka are currently accepted to have valid refugee claims by Australia .
The Specific Situation of Women
The situation for women in Sri Lanka, particularly in the northern areas of Tamil concentration, has been noted by human rights organisations as an area of grave concern, with implications for any female asylum seekers who might be returned to their country.
UNHCR wrote in 2010  that despite the end of hostilities, there were
still reportedly incidents of sexual and gender based violence against women and girls in former conflict areas. Incidents of rape, including at the hands of the military, have been reported in the north, where a large number of female-headed households are among families being resettled. A significant number of women in IDP camps, as well as former LTTE female cadres in detention centres, have allegedly been raped and sexually assaulted, including by security personnel.
UNHCR described as ‘most disturbing’ the increasing number of brutal sexual assaults carried out against women and girls in the Jaffna, Mullaitivu and Kilinochchi districts, often by government officials and the military. It noted that the practice of bringing a labour force from the South for work on projects taking place in the North posed a serious threat to women and girls.
Incidents are reported of women being raped by soldiers, and the victims and their families being too ashamed and afraid to make complaints or file charges. Doctors are being forced by the army to record that perpetrators are ‘unknown’ or ‘unidentified’ persons even though complainants have identified perpetrators, often where the involvement of army personnel is alleged.
The UN Committee Against Torture in November 2011 expressed concern about reported cases of war-time rape and other acts of sexual violence that occurred following the end of the conflict, in particular in military-controlled camps.
The ICG report Sri Lanka: Women’s Insecurity in the North and East  stated
Women in the predominantly Tamil-speaking north and east are facing a desperate lack of security in the aftermath of the long civil war. Today many still live in fear of violence from various sources…..The heavily militarised and centralised control of the north and east – with almost exclusively male, Sinhalese security forces – raises particular problems for women there in terms of their safety, sense of security and ability to access assistance. ….The international community has failed to appreciate and respond effectively to the challenges faced by women and girls in the former war zone.
Freedom House in its 2012 report confirmed continuing violence against women 
Rape and domestic violence remain serious problems, with hundreds of complaints reported annually; existing laws are weakly enforced. Violence against women increased along with the general fighting in the civil conflict, and has also affected female prisoners and interned IDPs. The entrenchment of the army in the north and east has increased the risk of harassment and sexual abuse for female civilians (many of whom are widows) in those areas.
Some Other Key Challenges Faced By Returned Asylum Seekers
In late 2011an expert panel of Indian and Malaysian representatives which undertook a fact-finding mission in Sri Lanka reported in detail evidence of the situation on the ground . It found found ‘most disturbing’ the level of control wielded by the military over the private lives of communities in the North and East. Families must inform the army of any guests they receive, their relationship, and the reason and duration of their visit. Any family celebration or event requires prior permission from the nearest police post. Anyone entering a village is required to register with the local army office, and the army must be informed even of community activities like sporting events. ‘In a recent incident in Chavakachcheri youth participating in a football match were brutally assaulted by the army as they had played on a field without the permission of the army’.
According to the Law and Society Trust joint submission referred to earlier , some of the challenges faced by returnees include
• difficulties finding accommodation, employment, family, and documentation
• lack of a National Identity Card which could mean re-arrest, detention and torture
• lack of any programs or policies to help them reintegrate into society, which leaves them vulnerable to abduction and extortion by armed groups
Attitudes to returnees are hostile, with others seeing them as traitors and people who brought Sri Lanka into disrepute. Systematic media attacks characterize the Tamil diaspora community as being LTTE mouthpieces and supporters.
Language difficulties remain problematic for Tamils proceeding through any judicial processes. As long ago as 2000, the International Commission of Jurists reported  that – particularly in Colombo – Tamil lawyers and their clients face a lack of interpreters, judges who do not speak Tamil, and relevant legislation and law publications are not available in Tamil. Freedom House recently stated that ‘(l)egislation that replaced English with Sinhala as the official language in 1956 continues to disadvantage Tamils and other non-Sinhala speakers’ .
In a statement of 16 March 2012xlvii announcing its two latest reports on Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka’s North I: The Denial of Minority Rights andSri Lanka’s North II: Rebuilding under the Military)  the International Crisis group claimed that ‘de facto military rule and various forms of government-sponsored “Sinhalisation” of the Tamil-majority region are impeding international humanitarian efforts, reigniting a sense of grievance among Tamils, and weakening chances for a real political settlement to devolve power.’
(I)nstead of providing the almost entirely Tamil-speaking north with a peace dividend, militarisation and government reconstruction efforts have dotted the region’s roads with Sinhala language sign-boards, streets newly renamed in Sinhala, monuments to Sinhala war heroes, and even a war museum and battlefields that are open only to Sinhalese. The slow but steady movement of Sinhalese settlers along the southern edges of the province, with military and central government support and sometimes onto land previously farmed or occupied by Tamils, is particularly worrying.
Recently (late 2012), the Government has returned significant numbers of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, predominantly Sinhalese but more recently also Tamils.
An Immigration Department spokesperson was quoted as saying
Since May 2012 there has been an increasing number of people outlining that their reasons for coming to Australia were based on economic concerns. The process and then removal of people who make economic claims or who otherwise make unfounded claims for protection is consistent with Australia’s obligations .
Refugee support groups and lawyers have noted the Department’s failure to conduct more than rudimentary processes before deportation , putting Australia in breach of its international obligsations, and have argued that at least some of the deportees have genuine fears of persecution based on past political activity.
Over the same period hundreds of asylum seekers, many of them Tamils, are being released into the Australian community on bridging visas, with minimal support, while long-term detainees remain in detention centres. It would appear that asylum seeker policy is at best, inconsistent, and at worst, in total disarray.
In December 2012, the UNHCR released an update of its 2010 guidelines for assessing the protection needs of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka (50). This is an important paper which gathers together more recent information from a wide range of sources, and should be read as a vital addendum to and expansion on this BMRSG paper. Another recent paper not available at the time of writing is a report to the Attorney General by the Australian Human Rights Commission concerns Sri Lankan detainees, including children, affected by adverse security assessments (51).
The evidence summarised in this report, drawn from a wide range of reputable sources, substantiates the calls of major human rights organisations for governments, including the Australian Government, to cease deporting Tamil asylum seekers until the situation in Sri Lanka can be shown to have improved very significantly.
There is demonstrable risk that returnees will be subjected to treatment ranging from lengthy detention to torture and even death, and therefore those resisting deportation should, for the foreseeable future, be given the benefit of the doubt and permitted to stay in Australia.
1.Data from World Bank, updated September 2012
4. UNHCR Eligibility Guidelines for Assessing the International Protection Needs of Asylum Seekers from Ski Lanka, 5 Jul 2012 www.unhcr.org/refworld/pdfid/4c31a5b82.pdf
5. DIAC Country Information Service 2010, ␣SRI LANKA: Paramilitary groups in post-war Sri Lanka , (Sourced from DFAT advice of 20 May 2010), 21 May , in Australian Government, Refugee Review Tribunal, Country Advice Sri Lanka, 27/10/10
6. Letter 12 January 2010 from the British High Commission in Colombo cited in Country of Origin Information Report on Sri Lanka, United Kingdom (UK) Border Agency (UK 18 Feb. 2010, No. 10.05)
7. There appears to be a dynasty in the making: government is dominated by the president’s family. One of his brothers is Defence Secretary and another is Minister of Economic Development, while a third brother is the speaker of parliament. A large number of other relatives, including the president’s son, also serve in important political or diplomatic positions
8. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2012 – Sri Lanka, 22 August 2012, available at: http://www.unhcr.org/cgibin/texis/vtx/refworld/rwmain?page=printdoc&docid=503c72222b [accessed 20 September 2012]
9. US Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, Country Report 2011: Sri Lanka, pp1-2 http://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/hrrpt/humanrightsreport/index.htm?dlid=186475
10. State of the World’s Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012, Sri Lanka, p.142
11. Freedom House, op cit
13. European Commission IP/08/1895, Brussels Dec 2008
14. US State Department, op cit, pp.20-21
15. Crisis Group Asia Briefing No99, Sri Lanka: a bitter peace, January 2010, pp.18-19
16. US State Department, op.cit pp2ff
19. Freedom House, Freedom in the World 2012 –Sri Lanka, 22 August 2012, available at http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/503c72222.html pp4ff
20. International Crisis Group, Sri Lanka: Post-War Progress Report, 12 September 2011
25. DIAC, Asylum Trends Australia 2010-11, and Quarterly Tables, March Quarter 2012
26. IRIN, a service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs www.irinnews.org/printreport.aspx?reportid=91533
29. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Sri Lanka: Information on the treatment of Tamil returnees to Sri Lanka, 22 August 2011, 103815.E, p.3 http://www.unhcr.org/refworld/docid/4e784eab2.html
30. Ibid, p.2
31. Ibid pp.2-3
32. Freedom from Torture, Sri Lankan Tamils tortured on return from UK, http://www.freedomfromtorture.org/document/briefing/6660, 13 Sept 2012
33. Country Policy Bulletin, Sri Lanka 1/2012, Country Specific Litigation Team Operational Policy & Rules Unit Strategy & Intelligence Directorate UK Border Agency, October 2012, 13.1-13.9
39. Op cit.
40. Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, Committee Against Torture Forty-seventh session, 31 October-25 November 2011, CAT/C/LKA/CO/3-4
41. 2011 http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-asia/sri-lanka/217%20Sri%20Lanka%20- %20Womens%20Insecurity%20in%20the%20North%20and%20East%20KO.pdf (date accessed 9 January 2011, Executive Summary)
42. Freedom House op cit p.7
44. Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, op cit, p.5
46. Freedom House, op cit p.6
51. Australian Human Rights Commission, Report of an inquiry into complaints by Sri Lankan Refugees in immigration detention with adverse security assessments, AusHRC 56, available at www.humanrights.gov.au/human_rights