Tamils flee for cash, not from harm
Lanka's High Commissioner to Australia, Admiral Thisara
In contrast to the weary boatloads of Sri Lankans
making the dangerous asylum-shopping trip to Australia, millions of
different shoppers are out in force here as the island prepared for
Sinhala and Tamil New Year celebrations.
This year, economists noted a change in the
spending patterns - lower-income people are spending more freely
than the better-paid shoppers in the capital, Colombo.
The reason? The gushing torrents of remittances
home from Sri Lankans who have gone abroad for employment, often
making empty claims of persecution to leapfrog others who stand
patiently in long queues outside Western embassies in Colombo to get
a work visa.
The hunger for foreign money is intense in Sri
Lanka, born of decades of dependency on remittances from those who
went overseas legally to work, and the tens of thousands who
smuggled themselves out of the country during the 30-year civil war
that ended in 2009. Asylum-seeking has become a habit, unconnected
to reality, and the trawler that sailed into Geraldton this week
with 66 Sri Lankans aboard is simply a part of that economic
The number of Sri Lankans of every walk of life
who have at least one relative in Australia is astonishing. Every
doctor, every lawyer, trishaw driver I have met over the past two
months after returning home following 33 years in Australia has a
family member in Melbourne or Sydney.
place in Colombo.
Vicariously they will ask you where you have
lived, whether jobs are not plentiful, whether life is not
Yes, you can find work in Australia easily. Yes,
you get money there even if you don't work. People get free houses
there, money for getting a baby, sustained help in finding work.
Just a little bit of hardship at the start but everyone knows you'll
get there in the end, and if you go in by boat as an asylum-seeker
the Australian government just has to take notice of you, and they
start looking after you straight away.
These are facts, and no matter what propaganda
Canberra puts out to deter people-smuggling, these facts are good
enough to make many Sri Lankans make a down payment of half a
million rupees to a people-smuggler and pledge to pay the rest when
they start earning in Australia, plus, for Tamils blackmailed
emotionally by the Tiger-controlled smuggling syndicates, a dollar a
month for "Tamil welfare" for the rest of time.
The civil war has been over almost four years.
There is no foundation on which Sri Lankans - Tamil, Sinhalese,
Muslim or Burgher - can claim to have a well-founded fear of
There are a few individuals who have tense
relations with government and other political parties but my own
experience as a member over seven years on Australia's Refugee
Review Tribunal indicates that embassies here are well aware of
them, share information, track them and help them with visas for
As Sri Lanka's High Commissioner to Canberra,
Thisara Samarasinghe, said the so-called asylum-seekers were fleeing
to Australia for "economic opportunities".
"I do not consider there's any Sri Lankan should
leave Sri Lankan shores and ask for refugee status in any country,"
Admiral Samarasinghe told ABC's Lateline on Wednesday night.
Tamils in the northeast who get on the boats to
Australia are not fleeing persecution but leaving for a chance of a
The area has always been poorer than the rest of
Sri Lanka - it is dryer, harder to cultivate, there has never been
any industry, and this was the fault of governments since
independence in 1948 but also of industrialists, many of whom are
Tamil, who never bothered to invest there.
The decades of Tiger control of the area cemented
in the poverty while the rest of the country was starting to
prosper. The Tigers, who collected millions of dollars for
development of "Eelam", merely squatted on the land and controlled
it with a fascist hand.
people – economic refugees
While life is poor and jobs are hard to find the
facts are at variance with those who claim that Tamils in the area
live destitute and face persecution from the authorities. The
government-run Bank of Ceylon in 2011 revealed that within two years
after the war's end, about 40,000 displaced persons in the north who
lived in the main Manik farm IDP camp had opened new accounts and
that about $US1 billion then rested in some 80,000 IDP accounts.
When I interviewed some former Tiger fighters last
year who are now living normally following rehabilitation, none of
them said they were suffering from persecution even when pressed.
Their problems were lack of jobs, lack of education and training to
get jobs, and difficulties with others over contested land.
As for claims that Tamils face persecution simply
for having been actual or suspected Tiger foot-soldiers, the
outgoing head of the International Organisation for Migration,
Richard Danziger, was reported saying on April 10 that the IOM had
encountered about a dozen complaints of current harassment from the
8000 former Tigers fighters it had been assisting. About 300
ex-militants were still in custody but 12,000 had been through
Cheaper passage to India
Even if, hypothetically, Tamils in Sri Lanka's
north and east suffered persecution they would find a much easier
and shorter and cheaper passage to India, just across the narrow
Palk Strait. The fact that some of the Tamils coming by boat to
Australia originate from camps in India in fact makes persecution
claims against Sri Lanka irrelevant.
Sri Lanka's Tamil population is spread widely
throughout the island, not huddled in fearful groups in a few
Tamils now outnumber Sinhalese in the capital,
Colombo. At least six of the 20 billionaires on the Sri Lankan stock
exchange are Tamil.
The country is doing well despite rising prices -
growth is more than 6 per cent. But there are about two million Sri
Lankans working abroad, earning enough to send home about $US10bn
($9.5bn). That's the party many Sri Lankans want to join.
Dinoo Kelleghan is a former foreign editor of The
Australian and was a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal from
Courtesy : Daily News