There is a Tamil man from the north of Sri Lanka, sitting in an Immigration detention facility in Victoria. He has been assessed as a refugee but is not allowed to be released. He is married. His wife is living with an Australian family.
The husband and wife are not allowed to spend time together. ASIO will not give him a security clearance. He will be in detention forever. It is sending the man and his wife mad. They are suicidal.
This situation, created by Australian politicians and government officials, is worse than a Kafka novel; it is worse than what happened under apartheid.
Denisan Santhiyoku and his wife, Antonet Innasimuthu, met in the process of fleeing Sinhalese violence at the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. Antonet was granted refugee status and released from detention. Denisan was not.
Denisan has spoken to Australians concerned about the welfare and mental health of the couple. A record of conversation was compiled from several conversations.
“Denisan came from a fishing family, was educated and did a degree in fisheries at university. After that he worked for the Sri Lankan government in the Fisheries Department. In 2000 there was pressure on him to join the EPDP.”
Here it should be explained that the EPDP (Elam People’s Democratic Party) was a pro-government Tamil organisation funded by the Sri Lankan government to undermine the activities of the LTTE. Those who belonged to it and worked for it were regarded as turncoats by Tamils in the north. Denisan refused to join the organisation. His father was adamant that his son should not get involved in politics. Denisan left his job and he and his father went prawning.
“The prawns were running in an area controlled by the LTTE; as for all business people regardless of their politics or wishes, they had to pay tax to both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government.”
In 2003 Denisan ceased fishing and returned home. There was further pressure on him to join the EPDP. He fled the country to Malaysia where he worked as a volunteer for the Catholic Church for six years. “By then, young men were being kidnapped and murdered in Sri Lanka. The war was at its worst and it was too unsafe to return to home so he came to Christmas Island from Malaysia by boat. Antonet was on that boat. They were separated at Christmas Island but made a commitment to each other and married in Maribyrong Detention Centre as soon as they were advised it was permitted.
They have been refused any time together since arriving here on July 12, 2009. Denisan is now in his 9th year of being a refugee.
Serco has assessed them as being dignified, intelligent and hard working but advised that they can never spend any time together. Denisan has been assessed as being a non-violent person. He avoided getting involved in confrontations on Christmas Island, even though provoked.
There are several possible explanations for Denisan’s continued incarceration and they can all be sheeted home to the Sri Lankan government and ASIO. One is that he is the victim of mistaken identity, another that the Sri Lankan government has fingered him as being a member of the LTTE because he refused to join their puppet organisation the EPDP.
ASIO has no independent means of ascertaining the background of Tamil asylum seekers. They must of necessity rely on the Sri Lankan government for advice and clearances. But worse either through a mindset that has evolved over the past 10 years or because of continued vigorous lobbying by the Sri Lankan High Commission on behalf of their government or both, ASIO has deprived itself of the means and will to overturn unfair, ill-advised and biased decisions relating to refugees in the predicament of Denisan. And of course there is no review of ASIO decision making, so mistakes and incorrect decisions can hide behind the veil of secrecy; as I said just like apartheid — a Kafkaesque nightmare, with no one in ASIO or government having the courage to deploy commonsense or courage.
The Sri Lankan government is bent on retribution of the vanquished Tamils. It is a racist, vindictive and ugly campaign. It is bullying. Tamils living in Australia have been the subject of abusive Sinhalese emails and so have I. The reason Sri Lanka found itself embroiled in a civil war was the violence and bullying directed at Tamils.
There is no move towards reconciliation. As a sop to international public opinion the government of Sri Lanka established a “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission”. The Report of the UN Secretary General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka, found earlier this year that “…the LLRC fails to satisfy key international standards of independence and impartiality … In sum, the LLRC is deeply flawed, does not meet international standards for an effective accountability mechanism and, therefore, does not and cannot satisfy the joint commitment of the President of Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General to an accountability process.”
Amnesty International says, “Nevertheless, in the face of domestic and international pressure, including from such allies as India, the Sri Lankan government has still refused to make a credible effort to seek accountability. Instead, as it has done often in the past two decades, the Sri Lankan government has established an ad hoc special commission, ostensibly to investigate and address wrong doing, but in fact to deflect international pressure and silence internal critics … In October 2010, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Crisis Group declined an invitation to testify before the LLRC, noting its severe shortcomings, including the commission’s inadequate mandate, insufficient guarantees of independence and lack of witness protection.”
From 1956 until 2008 there were 292 cases of state-sponsored violence against the Tamil community. These attacks are all on the public record. These attacks were eventually met with acts of indiscriminate violence, often amounting to acts of terror, by Tamils. But state sponsored indiscriminate violence also amounts to acts of terror. The one-sided view of history peddled by the Sri Lankan government and its High Commission in Australia needs to be re-assessed by the Australian government on behalf of all Tamils rotting in Australian detention facilities; and once re-assessed the Sri Lankan High Commission should be asked to cease its lobbying and special pleadings.
As the friends of Denisan and Antonet say: “Seeing the Australian public is paying for their permanent detention, we are entitled to know what they have done and if necessary see them charged in a court of law. As they have been observed 24 hours a day and all their communications accessible to ASIO and Serco over the years they have been in detention, there should be clear evidence by now against them, if ASIO adverse reports have any substance.”
The quality of mercy is not strain’d;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
In Australia in recent times it has become very strained.
What about showing Denisan and Antonet some. Let them have a life.
*Bruce Haigh is a political commentator and retired diplomat who worked in Sri Lanka and on the Refugee Review Tribunal