Australian refusal of Tamil refugees triggers regional xenophobia: HRW

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 06 January 2010, 14:34 GMT]
A wave of anti immigration sentiment sparked by Australia’s collaboration with Sri Lanka & Indonesia to detain Tamil asylum seekers travelling on boat has swept like a “virus” across Asia charged Bill Frelick, Refugee Policy Director for Human Rights Watch (HRW). Accusing regional governments of lying to the U.N and defying international law by sending refugees back to their home nations despite the risk of prosecution, Frelick urged nations to remember that “granting asylum is a humanitarian act that should be entirely divorced from political relations between states”.

“A virus is sweeping Asia. The symptoms are heightened xenophobia and amnesia about fundamental refugee rights. Australia and Indonesia succumbed first, in October, when they stopped boats carrying Sri Lankans..even though they came from a country experiencing massive violence and displacement” Mr Frelick wrote in an editorial appearing in the International Herald Tribune on Saturday, referring to the arrest of almost 250 Tamil refugees by the Indonesian Navy on request of the Australian Government, many of whom still remain on docked off the Indonesian port of Merak 3 months since their arrest.

Citing the international principle of “non-refoulement”, which explicitly prohibits the forced return of refugees to areas where their lives are endangered, Frelick slammed strategic agreements made between the leaders of Australia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka to block refugees from fleeing Northern Sri Lanka, including increased surveillance by the Sri Lankan Navy and immediate arrests.

“The willingness to flout international refugee law and to ignore the entreaties of refugees not to be sent back to their home countries has become the mark of chummy bilateral relations between Asian states” Frelick wrote.

The HRW director cited the refusal of Asian countries to sign to the 1951 Refugee Convention as the basis for its blatant disregard for the rights of refugees, saying that several regional Governments “have lied outright to the U.N. refugee agency about their intentions to return ‘people of concern’ to their home countries, blocked the agency from interviewing asylum seekers to assess their claims, and simply ignored the agency’s protests”.


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