New York, NY (PRWEB) June 19, 2012
This year’s World Refugee Day marks the "61st anniversary of the creation of the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR. The United Nations General Assembly in Resolution 55/76 decided that, beginning 2001, 20 June would be celebrated as World Refugee Day. As amended by its 1967 protocol, it defines a refugee as a person who "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country..." as reported by UN Democracy.
Over the years, while much focus has been on "refugees from the African continent, Balkans, and Southeast Asia," the plight of Tamil refugees and displaced persons from Sri Lanka have been neglected," explained the diaspora elected Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE). Since the end of Sri Lanka’s ethnic conflict in May of 2009 between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL), there has been a mass exodus of Tamil refugees globally. In a matter of three days, according to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, 40,000 people were killed, in an aerial bombardment of the Tamil homeland of the Northeast, also known as Tamil Eelam. Scores of surrendered Tamil Tiger rebels, and civilians were tortured, raped, and massacred. According to the TGTE, “due to economic, political and personal insecurity compounded by refusal of access to international aid agencies, boatloads of Tamil refugees have fled the conflict across the globe to Southeast Asia, Africa, Australia, Europe, and South and the Americas.”
“In October of 2009, 225 Tamil asylum seekers headed towards Australia were detained off the coast of Indonesia,” according to the Christian Science Monitor. Australian newspaper ‘The Age’ reported that “a phone call from Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono resulted in the interception of the boat. Amongst the asylum seekers were 27 women and 31 children who pled with Rudd to allow them to accept them into the country. They were immediately detained in Indonesia. A year later, the Indonesian government allowed the Sri Lankan Navy to interrogate the detainees.” On a positive note, the TGTE Ministry stated that “women and children were released from custody, after Canadian international refugee lawyer David Matas visited with the Indonesian authorities on this matter.”
“In July of 2011, 87 Tamil refugees aboard the ship ‘MV Elyssa’ headed to New Zealand were taken into custody by the Indonesian Navy,” according to sources from Tamil Net.” Upon reports of the detainees, “three men suffered from shrapnel wounds to the head needed immediate medical attention, while one pregnant lady was about to go into labor.” Minister Muthukumarasamy Ratna took immediate steps to contact the UNHCR and the International Organization of Migration (IMO). The TGTE Ministry including the Tamil diaspora strongly urged New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to take them in. The response from the New Zealand Prime Minister was, “Our very simple message to them is they are not welcome here.” Prime Minister Key’s actions were strongly criticized by Green Party MP; Keith Locke where he pointed out that the Prime Minister’s own mother was an asylum seeker, fleeing Nazi Germany in 1939.
In Malaysia, it is estimated that there are well over “4000 Tamil refugees and asylum seekers,” according to human rights organization SUARAM. The IPS reported that “Malaysia is a dangerous place for refugees who are often abused, arrested and treated like criminals.” According to Amnesty International, “the refugees ‘lack of legal status in Malaysia means they can be punished with imprisonment of up to five years and whipping for illegally entering the country.” In a fact finding mission to Malaysia, at the beginning of 2012, the TGTE Ministry stated that, “numerous Tamil refugees claimed that exploitation, kidnappings, and even rapes have occurred amongst them in Malaysia. There were also a large number of war widows left with children who are barred from attending schools.” Minister M. Ratna stated that, “though Malaysia is not a signatory country to the 1951 Refugee Convention; it is still subject to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The convention provides that children of asylum seekers and refugees shall ‘receive appropriate protection, humanitarian assistance, and education while cooperating with the UN, in providing those services.’’ SUARAM stated that “Malaysia has shown no intention of ratifying the 1951 UNHRC Refugee Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol.”
On a positive note, there have been countries that have taken steps on ensuring the safety and welfare of Tamil asylum seekers. One of these happens to come from the South American country of Ecuador. The TGTE Ministry reported that, “on April 3, 2011, we received reports of 21 Tamil asylum seekers detained in Ecuador by authorities. The following day the UNHCR was contacted about this matter, and several days later all 21 of them and were released.”
While UNHRC member countries like Ecuador have assisted asylum seekers and refugees, others have not lived up to their commitment to human rights. One in particular was the West African country of Togo. The TGTE Ministry stated that, “a phone call was received from within a refugee camp from one of the detainees of the arrest of 203 Tamil asylum seekers and refugees on November of 2011.” According the BBC, “Tamil detainees including 19 women and children, say they had to endure bad weather and humiliating treatment by guards at the stadium.” “UNHCR protecting Officer Stephanie Woldenberg was notified of this by the TGTE Ministry. She requested permission to see the refugees along with the Togolese Red Cross. The detainees reported to her of the detention center’s inadequacy and poor standards, with no medical facilities. After December 25, 2011, she was denied access to them by the Togolese authority. The Ministry further reported that “leaked information was received from within the center of Sri Lankan agents meeting with the detainees claiming to be with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). According to the caller, “The agents refused to disclose their names, where they took three males to a separate location and forced them to sign documents to return to Sri Lanka. They were stripped naked and tortured, after refusing to sign. The rest of the detainees were threatened with the same treatment if they did not sign the documents.” Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews flew to Togo to ensure that none of the Tamil refugees were to be allowed to seek asylum in Canada in accordance to its recently enforced anti-immigration Bill C-4 he endorsed. The TGTE Ministry stopped receiving calls from the Togo detainees. While the fate of the 203 Tamil asylum seekers remained unknown from the Ministries last contact, Sri Lankan media such as the Colombo Times stated that, “batches of 20 to 30 asylum seekers, started being transferred back to Sri Lanka each week.”
“Since the 1990s, Canada has been a welcoming nation for refugees and asylum seekers, and is home to over 300,000 Eelam Tamils. However, in recent years, there has been a growing anger over the influx of refugees into the country by right wing conservatives leading to the creation of the anti-immigration Bill C-4.” According to the Canadian Civil Liberties Association, “Bill C-4 imposes the mandatory incarceration of groups of asylum seekers, including children, prevents any review of the imprisonment, and created a second class of refugees.” CanadaVisa reported that, “the arrival by sea aboard the MV Sun Sea in September of 2010 of 492 Tamil asylum seekers continues to serve as a lightning rod for anti-immigration sentiment in Canada.” To date, according to the National Post, “of the 492 Sri Lankans who arrived, only three have been recognized as refugees while 13 claims have been withdrawn and five abandoned.”
“The United Kingdom has been one of the countries of destinations by those fleeing conflict since the outbreak of the ethnic conflict in1983, until in recent years,” according to Amnesty International. Since the proscription of the LTTE, Britain has been harsh on Tamil asylum seekers. Human Rights Watch stated that they “were concerned about the deportation of 100 Tamil asylum seekers, scheduled for deportation in February 28, 2012. They found that “some returned Tamil asylum seekers from the United Kingdom have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and torture upon their return to Sri Lanka.” In a most recent report on June 3, 2012, UKs Independent stated that, “dozens of Tamil asylum seekers were forcibly removed from Britain on a secretive deportation flight despite credible evidence that they face arrest and retribution on their return. According to Britain’s Channel 4 News, “photographs of some of the returnees were later published by the Sri Lankan Daily Mirror newspaper, and that many of the failed asylum seekers were followed by intelligence after leaving the airport.” The forced removals came as Sri Lankan Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa flew into the UK to join the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.”
In India, “there are over 70,000 people confined to around 132 camps in Tamil Nadu and Orissa since the start of the ethnic conflict from 1983 till present. There are a lot of restrictions on their movements, employment and education of children. Sadly, the plight of Tamil asylum seekers has not improved in India,” reported South Asia Human Rights Documentation Centre (SAHRDC). The TGTE Ministry stated that, “Since the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi in 1991, there has been great suspicion and hostility towards the refugees by authorities in India.” The SAHRDC further reported that, “the plight of Tamil asylum seekers has not improved in India. For many refugees, the conditions in the Tamil Nadu camps are worse. Essentially, the Indian Government has been and continues to violate key human rights of the refugees. The refugees have been stripped of such basic human rights as freedom to leave the campsites, proper medical assistance, and non-refoulement.” The TGTE Ministry further stated that they, “plan to do a fact finding mission to the state of Tamil Nadu. The refugees lack in healthcare and education will be addressed to the current Chief Minister J. Jayalalitha.”
Deputy Minister Alex Doss claims that “The denial of Tamil refugees in a number of countries is all due to the Bush administrations self-proclaimed war on terror, also started by the right wing conservative groups in the country. From branding certain ethnic groups including women, children, and the elderly as terrorists, this led to an anti-immigrant stance of all non-Anglos in Western countries. This is nothing more than a resurgence of neo fascism in the Western World feeding into the bloodlust genocidal killers and war criminals globally. The suffering of the Tamil people lies not with the LTTE, but the ignorance and naivety of the international community succumbing to fear mongering and hate. World Refugee Day is meaningless if refugees cannot be assisted by the signatoree UNHCR countries for resettlement.” Deputy Minister Doss further stated that, “with the attitude towards refugees in the post 9/11 era, would there ever have been a World Refugee Day if the attacks on America took place on June 11, 2001?”
“The refusal of Tamils, or any other asylum seekers, after credible evidence of persecution from the countries of their destination is very irresponsible, and inhumane. These countries who deny access to Tamil asylum seekers are only abetting war criminals from hiding the truth, and that Sri Lanka’s keen interest in tracking down Tamil asylum seekers is to silence the ‘would be’ key witnesses to war crimes committed by the perpetrators. Apart from being granted access to resettlement, Tamil asylum seekers are being denied their basic human rights in areas of healthcare, education, and security. The global community has a moral obligation to uphold and defend the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as adopted by the United Nations sixty years ago, of which they are a part of. Will World Refugee Day 2012 be a reality, or daydream for Tamils?”