It is extremely important the International community make every effort to act now because as reported in The Australian on 3 July 2014, Sri Lankan Human rights lawyer Lakshan Dias said:
“…if the handover happened in international waters and no one was there to witness it, both governments could claim the asylum-seekers were rescued after experiencing boat trouble.
“The violation is by the Australian government which is blocking the legal movement of people in international waters,” he said.
“You can’t blame the Sri Lankan government. Australia is Sri Lanka’s best friend at the moment. They support them in international forums, they have donated coastguard boats, and so if your friend asks you for a favour you try to help. Australia won’t want to come into a Sri Lankan port to hand over these people because it would tarnish their image…”
A copy our communication to the UN Human rights commissioner is as follows:
Urgent Request for investigation into whereabouts of Missing Tamil asylum seekers-reports they are being pushed back by Australia to International waters & handed to Sri Lankan Navy.
This is an urgent communication from RISE: Refugees, survivors and ex-detainees in Melbourne.
On 1 July 2014 we sent you an email urgently asking for assistance regarding the disappearance of 153 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers, men, women and children on a 21m long boat who were last in contact with Refugee advocates in Australia on 28 June 2014 after it arrived in Australian waters as well as the possibility of another boat load of 50 whose whereabouts are also unknown.
To date the Australian Minister of Immigration and Border protection, Mr. Scott Morrison, and the Prime Minister Tony Abbott have refused to reveal what has happened to these asylum seekers.
However since Tuesday 1 July 2014 there are disturbing reports that the Australian government has loaded them onto an Australian customs vessel and is planning to handover the asylum seekers mid-ocean to the Sri Lankan Navy, directly into the hands of their persecutors. The Australian government still refuses to confirm to NGOs and the media if this has happened.
Looking at the number of calendar days since the news was first reported, it is likely that the asylum seekers would now be in international waters. In fact a news report yesterday (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/ocean-transfers-of-asylumseekers-expected-today/story-fn9hm1gu-1226975765268) also says they are likely to have been transferred to the Sri Lankan navy on international waters by now.
Once the detained asylum seekers are on international waters it is the UN that has the competence to investigate the fate of these detainees and we therefore ask for an urgent investigation into the whereabouts of these prisoners and confirm if they are now in the hands of those they are seeking asylum from.
We have also made a similar request to other UN human rights bodies as well as ICRC (International committee of the Red Cross).