This week, the story of asylum seekers making their way to Australia on a leaky boat has snowballed into a whirlwind of speculation, shrouded by secrecy and denial from the Government.
Reports of 153 Tamils, including 37 children nearing our shores in desperate need of food, water and dry land defy the recent proclamations from the Abbott Government that the boats have stopped coming.
For months we have heard Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison proudly declare that the boats have stopped! But this event has shown that no amount of cruelty will prevent people from taking desperate measures in search of safety for their families.
The boats are still coming. People have travelled thousands of miles in search of safety. The only thing that has stopped is the government providing information about what is really going on.
What we are hearing is that the Australian Government is attempting a dangerous handover with the Sri Lankan Navy out on the high sea. Scott Morrison is refusing to say a word and the Sri Lankan Navy keep changing their story.
Scott Morrison has insisted that there is ‘nothing significant’ to report. Nothing significant? There are over 30 children, including babies, in distress on the high sea, if that’s not significant Minister, what is?
There are children being held in custody on Australian prison ships in the name of the Australian people.
The implications of this event are more than a just a blemish on the governments ‘stop the boats’ mantra.
If returned to Sri Lanka, our Government risks breaching international law, whilst also destroying the lives of over 150 people who will face almost certain harm if returned to the country from which they have fled.
The cornerstone of our international obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention is the non-refoulement principle, which prohibits returning refugees to places from which they have fled.
Without proper assessment, the Government cannot guarantee that these people won’t be returned to harm. However, this is highly likely given the ongoing targeting of Tamils in Sri Lanka which has been documented by numerous human rights organisations.
Sri Lanka has the second highest number of disappearances in the world, preceded only by Iraq. Under these regimes thousands of people are disappearing off the face of the earth and are never seen again.
Tamil people in Sri Lanka continue to face ongoing persecution and are routinely tortured and kidnapped. In recent weeks, Tamil asylum seekers in Australia have been so frightened and mentally tortured by the prospect of being forced home that they have set themselves on fire so as not to be returned.
Instead of protecting these people the Australian Government is colluding with very regime
these asylum seekers are fleeing.
This cruelty is being carried out in the name of the Australian people. We are chipping away at any level of decency and compassion we once had as a nation. In years to come we will look back on the way we treated asylum seekers and refugees, and reflect upon ourselves with shame that we did not do more to stop the injustice.
There is another way. We can offer people hope and extend a helping hand to those in need by increasing the number of refugees we resettle from the region and assessing asylum seeker claims in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, before they are forced to take a dangerous boat journey to Australia.
Compassion is not a sign of weakness; turning your back on people who are pleading for help is what cowards do.
Now is the time we all need to be brave and say ‘not in my name’.
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