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Apr 13, 2010

Arbiter of asylum claims casts doubt on Rudd’s application freeze

Foreign minister Stephen Smith’s claim over the weekend that conditions are improving in Sri Lanka is a sweeping generalisation that ignores the reality for each person. The Tamil Tigers are still a threat.

The Rudd government’s decision to freeze asylum applications for Sri Lankans and Afghanistan nationals is, it says, based on the view that political and social conditions in both countries are improving.  But a recent decision by the Refugee Review Tribunal (the RRT), the independent arbiter of asylum claims, casts some doubt on that claim.

In a decision handed down on March 11 in Sydney, RRT member Christine Long found that a Sri Lankan woman (who, like all applicants in migration cases, is not identified by name) who is a Tamil was a “person to whom Australia has protection obligations under the Refugees Convention”.

The woman had fled Sri Lanka after being accused of supporting the Tamil Tigers and was told by paramilitaries never to come back to Sri Lanka. She and her husband gave evidence to the RRT about the risks of returning to Sri Lanka.

The woman told the RRT that she and her husband are on a wanted list drawn up by paramilitaries. When asked by the RRT why she feared being harmed if she returned to Sri Lanka today, the woman said that “…they will kill her if she goes back because she has been detained and beaten and this will come to their attention if she goes back. She said she is branded as a Tiger”.

The woman’s husband told the RRT that in “Sri Lanka paramilitaries are everywhere. Those paramilitaries were once with the Tigers and then they left the movement”.  He told the RRT “paramilitaries are stationed to catch Tigers but they abduct Tamils and extort money”.

Long found that the woman “has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of her imputed political opinion and her race if she returns to her country now or in the reasonably foreseeable future”.

Of course, the RRT’s view about Sri Lanka in this case has to be seen in the context of the woman and her husband’s personal circumstances. What this decision also shows is that it is essential that every Sri Lankan person who makes a claim for refugee protection in Australia should be entitled to have their claim fairly assessed.

The RRT’s decision also suggests that foreign minister Stephen Smith’s claim over the weekend that conditions are improving in Sri Lanka is a sweeping generalisation that ignores the reality for each person.

This is not the only case of verbal overreach by the Rudd government on this issue. Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Evans claimed last Friday that other countries had also begun to suspend processing asylum seeker claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan.

Not so, says the UNHCR regional chief Richard Towle, who The Australian quotes this morning as saying, “I am not aware of any other countries in the industrialised world which have suspensions in place for asylum claims for people from these countries.”

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12 thoughts on “Arbiter of asylum claims casts doubt on Rudd’s application freeze

  1. surfer

    Is this any surprise? Rudd doesn’t want to lose his first election, what a legacy that would be after being the most popular PM in history, and looking at the possibility of losing the unlosable election. He would sell his soul to stay PM. No guts, no integrity and no spine.

  2. shepherdmarilyn

    The notion that Afghans could have a 99% success rate on application on Thursday and a zero success rate on Friday is frankly disgusting.

    And in Britain the courts have ruled even Tamil Tigers are entitled to protection.

  3. Michael James

    Marilyn, using the UK courts as some sort of justification for activities here is tenuous at best, given how far the two countries political, social and judicial systems have drifted apart.

  4. shepherdmarilyn

    No Michael the refugee convention is the same in all 147 nations who ratified it.

    “A refugee is a person outside their country with a well founded fear of persecution who is unwilling or unable to go home”.

    That is not allowed to be changed by any country.

  5. Tom

    @Michael James – sadly you are right but sadder than this is the drift toward American style political, social and judicial systems under a a supposed Government. When the dummy in the window that is Labor is undressed it looks pretty much like naked conservatism to me. From Crikey today ‘aged care – the opportunity to spend less (when EVERY civilised person know we should be spending considerably more)’, ‘genuine asylum seekers dropped like a hot spud to pander to middle class institutionalised and endemic racism simply because Abbott played the card early in an election year and the cynical use of old style Queensland tactics to attempt to get Victoria (providers of the best health system in Australia) ‘back in line’ to the detriment of the health of the people.
    When a majority of us bought the spin of 07 how many realised just how quickly we’d actually be getting that which was in the manifesto of the Liberals? Am I now a political right winger if I admit to having voted Labor?

  6. surfer

    No Tom your wrong, the Libs have at least stuck to their border protection policy (whether you like it or not, you know where they stand on the issue). On the other hand you have Rudd who has no integrity and changes his view according to his popularity and polling. “I make no apology for supporting a big Australia” OOPS not so popular……… “I don’t have an opinion on a big Australia” and appoints a population Minister to deal with the issue. Mean while he doesn’t have the courage to confront Australia about his change in asylum seeker policy, he sends out 3 Ministers to do it. His character is deeply in question.

  7. sinha_view

    Marylin, what other countries have or have not done is not the point. Australia’s migration policy should be determined by Australians. We don’t tell other countries what their refugee migration policies should be, do we? Take Canada’s refugee migration policy, for example. Some Canadians think Americans should also qualify as refugees – if they are army deserters looking to avoid punishment. Their #1 source country for “refugees” is not Afghanistan, not Sri Lanka, but… Hungary! Latin American countires are also up there. You see, they offer welfare payments, free accomodation, and work permits these frauds from the day they arrive on Canadian shores. In the time it takes for their refugee applications to be rejected and for them to exhaust the appeals process (which can take months or years) they will have made thousands of Canadian dollars which they then take home with them, laughing all the way, and live happily ever after. Do you care what countries like Canada think about refugee migration?

  8. Tom


    I wonder how you would feel if you were to lose the people you love, have your home destroyed and be forced to travel half way around the world to a strange new place, where you don’t even speak the language, to ask for help, only to face people with your point of view.

    The best tool to manage irregular migration is a rigorous asylum procedure that will quickly identify people in need of protection and to facilitate their eventual integration or return. Suspending the application process is a flagrant breach of international law and pressure should be put on Australian governments – whether Liberal or Labour – to live up to their obligations as a conscientious international citizen.

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    But sinha_view is a shill for Sri Lanka as we all know.

    Refugees seeking asylum are nothing to do with migration and no-one in Australia can even choose who lives in the frigging house next door so do give me a break with the racist crap about we choose our migrants.

    WE don’t

  10. sinha_view

    Marilyn, having read your comments on a number of articles on this web site, I think you are typical of left-wing political activists. You accuse me, a minority Australian, of racism. Now, racism is a very serious issue in many Western countries, and as a minority person I find it offensive that some people view it as a tool for left-wing Anglo-Australians to win political arguments. It disgusts me.

    Having been a part of Australia’s Sinhalese and collective South Asian minority all my life, I know feel that I can empathise with some of these people – many refugees are from minority communities in their countries of origin and often cite ethnic tensions as the reason for their seeking asylum. However, South Asians and Muslims in particular would tell them that Anglo-Australians are no different, so coming here doesn’t fix everything for them. I would suggest that their communities learn from the approach of minority communities in Australia. Minority community leaders should be diplomatic and prepared to negotiate rather than encouraging members of their community to be hostile and disrespectful. If they did that, these people would have no reason to come here.

    I wasn’t trying to make Sri Lanka look good in my previous post (above). I am Australian born and raised, and the comments I are from the viewpoint of an Australian. The article is about how Australia’s refugee immigration policy is not consistent with those of other Western countries. Now, I’m not a fan of the Rudd government’s policy either; I also think it has to change. My argument was that we should not be relying on other Western countries (such as Canada) to get refugee immigration policy right – because if we do that, we probably won’t.