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Tamils facing new atrocities in Sri Lanka

Paul White |  03 July 2014

Tamil homelands burned by Sri Lankan military

On Monday morning Australians learnt that two boats of Tamil asylum seekers had been intercepted off Christmas Island. Now there are unconfirmed reports that Australia is handing them over to the Sri Lankan navy without assessing their claims for protection. 

At least one of the vessels intercepted in high seas contained 153 Tamil asylum seekers, originally from Sri Lanka. These included 37 children, one of whom was only aged three months and was sick. The Tamils had been almost two weeks at sea in their 22-metre boat. A Tamil asylum seeker on-board told the ABC: ‘We are refugees. We come from Sri Lanka — we stayed in India and we are unable to live there. That’s why we are coming to Australia’.

These Tamils previously sought refuge in India from Sri Lanka’s 1983-2009 extremely brutal civil war. In 2011 a UN expert panel identified war crimes such as abductions, torture and disappearances, in which high government officials were implicated. Over 100,000 people were killed and one million displaced. Tamils were exposed daily to air strikes and atrocities, forcing many to flee to India.

India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Refugees have no right to freedom of movement. India’s Foreigners Act 1946 and Citizenship Act 1955 define all non-citizens who enter without visas to be illegal migrants, with no exception for refugees or asylum seekers. Possession of a UNHCR refugee certificate does not protect refugees from detention.

More than 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in between 115 and 130 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu State in India. Aid workers say that some refugees live in thatched huts, others in small cement blockhouses. There are no proper toilet facilities, bathing facilities or adequate drinking water. There is no rubbish collection, and only some camps have medical facilities. Electricity is provided in some locations, but usually only between 6 am and 6 pm. In some camps there is no electricity for many inmates. Six houses at Thiruvadhavur collapsed in monsoonal rains recently, killing a girl.

The camps are of two types: general camps and so-called special camps — which Indian NGOs say are really concentration camps. People can go out of the general camps, but require three levels of police clearance. They are subject to constant surveillance by security forces and face travel restrictions. NGOs are generally barred from working in the refugee camps. Even UNHCR officials are not permitted access.

An Amnesty International investigation found that general camp inmates potentially face great oppression from security authorities. ‘The Q branch (the anti-terror wing of the state police) has forced labourers at the Goomidpoondi camp to pilfer steel from the factories where they work’, one refugee told Amnesty. Amnesty reports that refugees were made to rob banks in 2008 and 2011, ‘and the Q branch were involved’. If refugees caught up in such abuses complain they may find their young relatives packed off to ‘special camps’.

Many Tamils have returned home after the war to discover that their land had been stolen. Indeed, Tamil NGOs report a ‘Sinhala colonisation’, of predominantly Tamil areas. A Tamil refugee told Amnesty: ‘My brother went back to check on his property and found that nearly 100 percent of our areas are still under Sinhalese military occupation’.

Years after the supposed end of the civil war, allegations of torture in police custody persist. UN human rights commissioner Navi Pillay warned in 2013 that Sri Lanka was becoming increasingly authoritarian. Tamils face the risk of sexual violence, torture, murder, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance. Juan Méndez, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, concurs.

Since March 2014 Sri Lankan authorities have intensified security operations in Tamil areas. There have been scores of arrests and several deaths in these regions and freedom of movement has been restricted in these areas. According to an estimate by The Sentinel Project, ‘the overall risk of genocide in Sri Lanka is medium to high’, as ‘conditions point to a likely renewal of conflict in Sri Lanka that could escalate to mass atrocities including genocide’.

Sri Lankan human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias says that in the past 12 months Australia had deported numerous formerly India-based Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers to Sri Lanka. He adds that these forced returnees are sometimes ‘held and interrogated, some are questioned or beaten, and they are unable to return to India’. In 2011, ABC1’s Lateline reported the severe beatings of two forcibly returned Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who claimed that Sri Lankan police beat them in the presence of an Australian Federal Police officer.

Oppressed in India and facing new genocide in their homeland, our latest arrivals have nowhere to go, and seek Australia’s mercy. The full High Court has ruled that refusal to give refugees permanent protection visas is invalid.


Paul White headshotDr Paul White lectured at Australian universities for some years, in the fields of political science and Middle Eastern studies, and delivered papers at scholarly conferences in several countries. He is widely published internationally, including both critically acclaimed books, as well as papers in refereed journals.

Image: Tamils Against Genocide



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Submitted comments

If we read this article alone, why would we believe Abbott's assurances today that 'I would be very happy to give the Australian people an assurance that we are absolutely confident that no harm would come to anyone who has been in our charge'? - See more at: http://www.skynews.com.au/.../pm-confident-asylum-seeker... We know Abbott's reputation for "truth" telling ... I know whose word I would trust: thank you Eureka Street.

Dorothy Panelli 03 July 2014

And of course "Lord Morrison of Manus" labelled this returning of Tamil Asylum Seekers to Sri Lankan custody as an event of little significance

John Cranmer 04 July 2014

The social media helped to expose the war crimes including the recent Buddhists attack on the Muslims. The Tamils are under consistent attack since the British left Eelam by the Sinhala Buddhist regimes and chauvinists. It is time to put an end by conducting a referendum in Tamils areas.

Shiva 04 July 2014

It's horrendous, we know what we are doing but keep on supporting the genocide from the top of government down.

Marilyn 04 July 2014

I think if we are supposed to accept every single person who arrives in commonwealth waters...I think we need to have an open door policy for all migrants who try to enter the country the legitimate way. Regardless of the circumstances, migrants move to find greener pastures...so what does Paul think?

Michael 04 July 2014

Tony Abbott would do nothing to put any cloud over human right issues due to the papal visit in January next year, with Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith rejecting any UN investigation into war crimes costing the lives of thousands of Tamils still not accounted for.

Lynne Newington 04 July 2014

Michael :"MIGRANTS MOVE TO FIND GREEN PASTURES.... SO WHAT DOES PAUL THINK?" Paul evidently thinks the Tamil asylum seekers move to find a place where they won't be abused and killed.

Robert Liddy 04 July 2014

In the absence of any info from the Govt we can only surmise that the Tamil asylum seekers have been "captured" by the Australian navy (somewhere in the Indian Ocean) and transferred to Indian and/or Sri Lankan authorities (presumably on to ships of those countries). What will they go back to? Well Paul White has told us that. Will the Indians and the Sri Lankans treat them worse for being escapees? Who knows? But the Australian government will boast it has stopped two more boats - but don't ask us what are the consequences for the asylum seekers on those boats. After all in Morrison speak they are "illegals" - code for "non-persons". And we have saved them from those dangerous leaky boats - aren't we the true humanitarians! Shame! Shame on you, Mr Morrison!

Uncle Pat 04 July 2014

This is nonsense. It seems only Tamil died in the conflict. Over 40,000 Sinhalese died at the hands of LTTE. Who speak for them?

Ravi randeniya 04 July 2014

This persecution tag in SL is wearing thin and getting too sordid. Why did these Tamils leave India?

wsw 04 July 2014

Great article Paul, The plight of the Tamils in the murderous hands of the Sri Lanka Government is slowing coming out now. The UNHRC last week (27/06) appointed 3 International experts to investigate the war crimes and crimes against humanity on the Tamil civilians. The Sri Lanka Government as usual has said it will not co-operate with UN inquiry given "its involvement" and we are sending fleeing refugees in their hands. http://en.apdnews.com/news/100960.html Really sad to see Australia has sunken so low under this Government!

Andrew Simpson 04 July 2014

The Article does not address the topic and current situation in Sri Lanka. These people are better of in SL than in India or PNG. Well done Australian and SL governments...you saving lives and putting dreaded human smugglers and their paid and unpaid helpers out of business.

Andy Sydney 04 July 2014

Ravi, The article is about refugees from Sri Lanka. Are you saying that there are Sinhalese fleeing too? If not, I don't quite see the relevance to the article of your comment.

Simon Crase 04 July 2014

Robert Liddy So many sinhalese people live in tamil border villages died and suffered from Tamils therefore if they all jump into boat and go to Australia because still Tamils are surrounded by them , then you and Paul think Tony Abbott should give asylum to those people ?

kris 04 July 2014

More than 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in between 115 and 130 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu State in India. Aid workers say that some refugees live in thatched huts, others in small cement blockhouses. There are no proper toilet facilities, bathing facilities or adequate drinking water. There is no rubbish collection, and only some camps have medical facilities. Electricity is provided in some locations, but usually only between 6 am and 6 pm. In some camps there is no electricity for many inmates. Six houses at Thiruvadhavur collapsed in monsoonal rains recently, killing a girl. Paul do you think they had luxary life when Prabakaran ruling them

kris 04 July 2014

"wsw", what you mean by "too thin". Are you saying that no Tamils are being persecuted, so Paul is misinfomed? If so, please give supporting evidence. Or that you are tired or reading about them? In that case the remedy is even simpler.

Simon Crase 04 July 2014

A Tamil asylum seeker on-board told the ABC: ‘We are refugees. We come from Sri Lanka — we stayed in India and we are unable to live there. That’s why we are coming to Australia’ That man should complain to their HERO chief minister Jayalalitha that they can,t live properly in India This is not Sri Lankan problem this is the problem between India and Tamils

kris 04 July 2014

I have no idea where your information comes from but i'm pretty sure that most of you speaking this and that abt Sri Lanka haven't even step a single foot in that land. Tamils lived in colombo even during war they went to same schools with us , there are hindu colleges in Colombo where only tamil students are allowed to study , Tamils lived in the middle part of the country and they still live there and earns their livelihood from working in plantation industry. Its not a problem between Tamils and Sri lankans, It's just a problem of a bunch of lazy people who wants to migrate to a country like Australia for a better life. The war is over it ended 5 years ago . These people come here for financial gains if it's purely hr based they can go to South india which is only 32 km from north of the island and the state is full of Tamils who has been shouting about protecting Sri Lankan Tamils for a very long time , why would they come 6000 km in a boat to Australia? Not for human rights .just for a better life

Era 04 July 2014

Agreed that Tamils suffer in these camps. However, I'm a Sri Lankan and know what is happening in SL now. Tamil civilians are not being tortured or persecuted in SL due to their ethnicity. Sri Lanka has other issues and any person from any ethnicity can get in trouble for other reasons (not an ideal democracy there at the moment). Still, there are millions and millions of Sinhalese and Tamils living there in peace and without having terrorist bombs exploding in their faces. The reason for these migration of Tamils (and sometimes Sinhalese) by boat to Australia is economic - period. They want a better life away from the refugee camps of India, let's be honest about it. So, if they are getting on these boats to come to Australia in search of green pastures, where does Australia draw a line if all refugees in all the refugee camps around the world decide to jump on boats and set sail to Australia. That will be a vision to behold!!!! What will you do? Take them all in and open camps near Uluru?

pam 04 July 2014

Claims of persecution and torture are a cover story as there would be no other way of receiving sympathy from the Australian people. Thousands of ex rebels have been rehabilitated. If the Sri Lankan govt made that kind of effort why would they be interested in persecuting civilians? Economic pressures make life hard for both Tamils and Sinhalese in Sri Lanka and seeking greener pastures is only natural.

Sam 04 July 2014

There is only one way to test the claim that they are 'economic refugees.' Full screening under recognised asylum seeking conventions - not illegal cloak & dagger so-called 'enhanced screening' with predetermined outcomes. Not happy, Jan!

Dennis Ryle 04 July 2014

I see we have plenty of anonymous contributors, who call themselves "pam", "sam", "era". "era" assumes that the people who express support for the refugees have never been to Sri Lanka. Wrong. I certainly have been there.Several contributors assert that the Tamils want "a better life", as if this made them suspect. But surely that is what all immigrants want. In particular, people who flee persecution, torture and death, are, by defintion, seeking a better life. Or should they stay in Sri Lanka, to be "rehabilitated", as "Sam" calls it?

Simon Crase 04 July 2014

I feel sick in my stomach, I chose to become Australian, but want to leave this so uncompassionate country. WHAT can we DO??? I am ashamed and feel helpless. “My yoke is easy”, how easy is this for the asylum seekers who must have lost all believe and hope in humanity. And here I am comfortable AND Christian. Can’t we all band together and write/ring the UN to speak out more forcefully. The Pope, surely can support the Christians in this incredible ”stained” country. I am ready to leave all behind, but where do I go? How do I change anything, this government is becoming more and more undemocratic and non-transparent

francisca hutton 04 July 2014

The group of Tamils arrived in India without hindrance, as they had been promised. That however was not their destination. They had paid good money ($10,000-15000) to be taken to Australia for a better life than they could expect in a poor nation like Sri Lanka. With so many bleeding hearts waiting to listen to their concocted stories and to allow them to benefit from Australian largesse, maybe Abbot aught to reconsider.

Ram 04 July 2014

Over half the Tamils of Sri Lanka have for over a century in cities like Colombo and Kandy. They continued to do so even during the height of the ethnic conflict and still continue to live work and trade amongst the majority ethnic community. This alone belies the claims of rape, torture and genocide. These are economic migrants trying to enter Aus through the back door.

les Pere 04 July 2014

I should be the last person to comment on the above article "Tamils facing a new atrocities in Sri lanka" But I am happy to read comments from writers who know the real situation in Shri Lanka, India and the Tamils seeking refuge in New Zealand and lost their way.; Like Era writes " why would come 6000 Km in a boat to Australia? Not for Humnan rights, just for a better life". ES please stop attacking Tony Abbott. He promised he would stop the boats and repeal the Carbon Tax,and a large population of Australia voted for him to stop stop the boats and repeal the Carbon tax and a large population of Australia, voted for him to stop the boats and rrepeal the Carbon tax,.He had succeed to stop the boats and save thousands of He had succeed to stop the boats and save many thousands of lives who could have lost their lives in leaking boats and welcome thousands of genuine refugees to Australia. Tony Abbott had to make some tough decision for the future generations "our grand-children,, great-grandchildren,, and future generations, instead to win votes for himself..We couldn't have a better Prime Minister. . save many thousands of lives who could have lost their lives in leaking boats

Ron Cini 04 July 2014

Paul White reported, "In 2011, ABC1’s Lateline reported the severe beatings of two forcibly returned Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who claimed that Sri Lankan police beat them in the presence of an Australian Federal Police officer." In 2014, the ABC also reported that Navy sailors forced asylum seekers to place their hands on hot engine manifolds. Hmmm. Perhaps Aunty is not the most balanced, rational or reliable source for such an argument.

Jacque 05 July 2014

Some comments indicate Tamils are not genuine asylum seekers. Are they deliberately lying or misinformed or uninformed? I don't know but I suspect Tamils are still persecuted in Sri Lanka. How can we trust Morrison anyway? This government has earned our suspicion. It lacks any respect for Australian citizens, believing it has the right to deny us information while condoning racist free speech. Many Australians consider the comparison with the beginning of Nazi Germany as not too far fetched. Marginal people, including asylum seekers, the unemployed and the disabled, indeed all those not contributing to the wealth of Australia, are being touted as worthless and this is having an effect on most Australians. There are the many who, unfortunately accept the authority of the government (as did many at the beginning of the Nazi regime) and those who are alarmed, feel compassion for asylum seekers and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. Abbott et al do not listen to reasonable criticism of their policies; they are not interested in views other than their own. We cannot stand idly by, wringing our hands in despair, but nust find a way out of the dark tunnel along which this government is determined to take us.

Zia 05 July 2014

Many Sinhalese are writing comments that are full of lies and to mislead those who do not know the ground situation. If what the Sinhalese write are true, why the Sinhalese are denying an independent international transparent investigation of human rights abuses and war crimes and deny International media, NGOs, Human Rights Groups, Foreign Lawmakers, Diplomats and UN staff to the Tamil areas? Why did the regime chase out the UN staff from Tamil areas during the war? No one can fool all the people all the time!

Shiva 05 July 2014

kris (o4July 2014);"you and Paul think Tony Abbott should give asylum to these people?..... I think they deserve to be assessed and not blindly consigned to timeless incarceration or forcibly returned to the situation they are fleeing from.

Robert Liddy 06 July 2014

No civilised nation would touch Sri Lanka at the moment, given the continued human rights abuses and allegations of war crimes, but Australia gives them military aid? To better torture and repress the Tamils? The Abbott government is becoming complicit of the Sri Lankan government, which is no better than the Syrian dictatorship. Give us an election soon, let us return to sanity. And this is the government that reckons we should take them on 'trust' when they say that the Sri Lankan asylum seekers will come to no harm? Trust is a commodity we have long lost!

Eveline Goy 06 July 2014

The forever teller of his own truths is Micheal Bolt who claimed they were well off and here to make them money.. Do you really think we are stupid to believe all the lies.

Karen Peters 06 July 2014

My mother has helped a couple of families from Sri Lanka resettle here in Australia, they lived in my mothers home & have become friends of our family. Both families were Tamil & came from the cities, parts of the country that were not directly exposed to the atrocities of the civil war with Sinalese & Tamils carrying on with their work & daily lives. What many Australians in support of the Abbott Govt's policies fail to recognise is the ongoing tension that the people of Sri Lanka experience day in day out, the thought & fear that at any moment something could erupt. These families have been fortunate enough to leave Sri Lanka thru the official channels & are most grateful to now be living in a country that is relaxed & at peace. War is something most Australians thankfully have no idea about but this has its flip side in that many have absolutely no compassion when it comes to how horrifying it must be to experience such a situation. I have heard stories of people packing up & leaving town after a cyclone has hit because they have been so traumatised, the same could be said for war. Just imagine & have some compassion please.

Justine 07 July 2014

Sri lanka is not fair to tamils.They are not capable and interested on rehabilitating victims of army brutality.Why not create a safe zone in Sri Lanka and the protection should be given by UN international force.

mohan 08 July 2014

Why are we all watching this government commit these crimes? In the nazi regime it was the German citizens who turned a blind eye, now it seems we all talk the talk now it's time to walk the walk the only way this disgusting treatment of children and families fleeing from a life of hell is going to stop is if we the Australian public sit on the doorstep of every government building of every state and demand they either stop this inhumane treatment of refugees including shutting down those prison camps on manus and hire enough staff to process them properly and many of us would not mind donating money monthly to help pay for schooling for children toys books whatever they need to be able to live as normally as possible until processed we have more than enough unused land and many of us would donate furniture and more the only thing stopping this is a government full of old men with hidden agendas who care nothing for people as we all know as Australians we are also being treated badly from education to health cuts and old people badly treated, this government need to go!

Vanessa Overton 09 July 2014

Tamil women who return to Sri Lanka are given good jobs according tto Abbot. What actually happens is they are forced to service the army mens sexual desires....

lisa 10 July 2014

This article has completely misrepresented the situation of Tamil refugees in India. I work on labour programs in the region. Many refugees live outside of camps in private housing. India has one of the most innovative programs for working with refugees eg education programs, health programs etc. Just google the public quotes of Sri Lankan refugee leaders living in India. See what they say. This whole debate was nonsense, based on inaccurate reporting.

john 11 January 2015

I am incredulous of the misrepresentation of treatment of Tamils in India by dr white. Extraordinary. Too many to list. Statistics and figures wrong. Suggestion of ill treatment and restrictions are overstated. The genuine and generous benefits provided not listed. Innovative education, work creation programs not listed. One third of Tamil refugees live in private accomodation. Failure to distinguish types of camps and conditions. India has legislated the geneva convention of refugees into its laws. Many Asian countries saw it as a Eurocentric document at the time. India has enshrined it in law. There is consideration of making Tamils citizens from Sri Lanka citizens of India.India has over 200,000 refugees. No Tamil leader in India has made the claims dr white makes here. See unhcr entry on refugees in India.This is manipulation of the highest order, to suggest that Tamils are persecuted in India. Done to portray boat Tamils from India as genuine refugees fleeing persecution. Dr white has an agenda - fair enough, most agree the Abbott government has been cruel in its treatment. But to portray India in this way, a country that unhcr has said has an ideal model in its approach to refugees, is incredible.

john 15 January 2015

Beware what you read!
There are too many falsehoods to list. Here are but a few more…

Refugees have no right to freedom of movement. Incorrect. One-third of Tamil refugees live outside camps. There are some movement restrictions, but minor ones generally.

Possession of a UNHCR refugee certificate does not protect refugees from detention. This sounds like many are detained; few are detained. The UNHCR works in partnership with the government of India on many projects. UNHCR has made much mention of the ideal model of refugee programs in India. See UNHCR India file on website. See numerous UNHCR videos on the issue. India suffered from extremist LTEE members; their PM was murdered by Tamil Tigers. So some camps have higher security checks; after all, they were dealing with a group designated as a terrorist organisation. Dr White infers that this heavy security watch applies to all camps and all Tamil refugees. Untrue. No Tamil refugee leader in India makes this claim; quite the contrary. Camps vary in purpose. The structure and profile of camps vary.

More than 100,000 Sri Lankan Tamils live in between 115 and 130 refugee camps in Tamil Nadu State in India. Aid workers say that some refugees live in thatched huts, others in small cement blockhouses. There are no proper toilet facilities, bathing facilities or adequate drinking water. There is no rubbish collection, and only some camps have medical facilities. Electricity is provided in some locations, but usually only between 6 am and 6 pm. In some camps there is no electricity for many inmates. Six houses at Thiruvadhavur collapsed in monsoonal rains recently, killing a girl. The figures are so wrong. Fewer than 50,000 currently live in camps. Disparate events are linked to make them sound sinister. Houses collapse regularly during monsoonal rains! Power black outs occur right across Tamil Nadu. It’s India!! All Tamil refugees have right to free universal health care. There are numerous benefits - money allowances, education programs, often free; free food allowance. None of this is mentioned. However, yes, India is poor in many regions. But they manage to care for 200,000 refugees...

And so on, and so on.

John 17 January 2015

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