ATC's Statement on Current Refugee Policies

Australian Tamil Congress calls for principled and humane approach to policy formulation and implementation of refugee laws


Australian Tamil Congress (ATC) expresses its strong disappointment and condemnation at the proposed lifetime ban on asylum seekers who arrive by boat in Australia.


There is no doubt whatsoever as to the pathetic plight and the hopelessness of the inmates in the immigration detention centres on Nauru and Papua New Guinea. Now to bring this extra-ordinary measure, which will inflict an added degree of cruelty on an already broken people, all in the name of sending a strong message to people smugglers, is a clear illustration of the lack of leadership, compassion and humanity in the Australian political leadership. A notable numbers of Tamil asylum seekers from Sri Lanka are also potential victims of this measure, and in desperate need of counselling and help.


Another troubling development for the Tamil refugees is the flawed ‘fast track’ refugee processing arrangement with no judicial oversight, disregarding any previous harm, persecution or violence inflicted with impunity by the security establishment of Sri Lanka under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), which is yet to be repealed.


Though the present government of Sri Lanka has made advances in relation to diluting executive powers and allowing media and civil society freedom, it has yet to take meaningful measures to end abuses by security forces, including torture by police. An assessment by Sri Lanka’s own Human Rights Commission indicated torture is routine in Police custody; and a case is being filed in the UK by a recent returnee who was tortured in Sri Lanka on the suspicion of his past involvement in Tamil politics. These incidents illustrate that Tamil asylum seekers should not be assessed and repatriated in a blanket manner; rather each individual case must be assessed carefully. In particular, those with past political involvement should be assessed with extra care before decisions are taken on the outcomes and possible repatriation. 


Australia has a proud record of supporting vulnerable people and refugees from all over the world. It is home for tens of thousands of Tamils, a significant portion of the population having arrived here as refugees. They are today proud Australians, who contribute fully to the wellbeing of this country. It is in this context that our hearts sink when policies and procedures highlighted earlier are contemplated by our political leadership. While it may be important to send a message to the ‘people smugglers’, do we want to be known in the world as a nation of compassionately impaired people?


The proposed changes to the Migration Act will discredit Australia globally. It is time that all Australians – including principled politicians across the entire political spectrum - rise to the occasion and prevent any escalating measures from being espoused or implemented.


We are certainly better than this.