At present large number of Sinhalese (and Tamils) fishermen are coming to Australia from North West Sri Lanka.
It is a concern that the Australian media, as well as a number of Australian human rights activists, are not aware of the political context surrounding the economic crisis these fishermen are facing.
The news reports written by journalists such as Ben Doherty from The Age and this piece from the 7:30 Report (http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2012/s3657990.htm) have been devoid of proper context and critical analysis of the socio-political climate as well as legal and protection issues within Sri Lanka:
The following two examples illustrate what Sri Lankans from the North-West coast face:
1. In 2011 Police fired live ammunition at protestors in Katunayake (which is near Negombo) and soldiers were called to “control” the protest. What was the protest about? It was about a proposed pension bill. One man (Chanaka: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFXkfAJY_7E , http://www.ucanews.com/news/activists-protest-factory-worker-killing/19308) was killed in the cross fire and a number of others injured. The Sri Lankan army were also present at Chanaka’s funeral.
2. In 2012 Fishermen in the Northwest (Negombo, Chilaw and Mannar) went on strike because of ongoing, rising kerosene prices. The Rajapaksa Government again used the Sri Lankan army (http://www.muthuvision.org/watch.php?id=19608) against the protesters. Grenades were thrown into a crowd of protestors killing another young man and injuring others.
As such it is no wonder that the Negombo/Chilaw fishermen have “economic” problems. Should they speak out about their pension or escalating fuel prices, which are making it impossible to operate their fishing boats, the Rajapaksa government sends out the army to supress any dissent and lobs grenades at them.
Sri Lankan Tamils in addition to the usual human rights abuse and suppression of political dissent are contending with the continuation of the Genocide/ethnic cleansing they face. They are not just victims of “collateral damage” in a war. Their own government’s Sinhalese security forces have destroyed infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, grab and occupy their lands and threaten the safety of the people. Of course these people who are persecuted due to their ethnicity do not have fair access to the economic system in the country.
It is telling that almost none of the Australian media reports about Sri Lankan asylum seekers have mentioned that Sri Lanka has the second highest unsolved disappearances in the world. Yet the phrases “people smugglers” and “economic migrants” appear so frequently in these reports.
It is however important above all, for us to not forget that the Australian government, a signatory of the UN refugee convention and a member or the UN Security Council has been deporting these asylum seekers with impunity. The majority of them have not even been allowed to lodge a claim for asylum, have access to legal advice and have the merits of their claim assessed in a fair manner.