BY Amanda Hodge | Colombo
THE first Tamil man to be deported from Australia since the end of the Sri Lankan war was returned a week after Sri Lanka’s navy chief complained to Australia’s high commissioner of double standards in the treatment of Sinhalese and Tamil asylum-seekers.
The Australian has learned that a reported clash between High Commissioner Robyn Mudie and Vice-Admiral Somathilake Dissanayake at a July 18 meeting in Colombo was sparked by accusations the federal government’s favourable treatment of Tamils over Sinhalese was encouraging the continued movement of boats.
Tamil asylum-seeker Dayan Anthony had been in the care of his Melbourne-based sister and brother-in-law since December 2010 and his family have claimed that notice of his deportation, and his removal back into detention last week, came without warning.
Senior Sri Lankan navy officials said yesterday they believed the conversation between the navy chief and the commissioner might have contributed to Mr Anthony’s deportation.
Ms Mudie told The Australian yesterday she was unable to comment on official meetings.
But a spokesman for the Department of Immigration and Citizenship told The Australian yesterday that Mr Anthony’s removal had been “under way for weeks”.
“These are very, very long processes. They do not happen in a matter of days. We need to get travel documents and flight clearances. We need to make sure the escorts are available. This is a removal that had been planned for many weeks.”
Sri Lankan navy operations director N. Attygalle confirmed to The Australian the navy chief had raised the issue with Ms Mudie at their meeting two weeks ago, where the two are also reported to have traded barbs over failures by both sides to fully co-operate to stamp out people-smuggling.
“I am sure your high commissioner here in Colombo must have taken it seriously because it is the commander making the accusation,” Commodore Attygalle said yesterday.
“Maybe that was one of a number of contributing factors (that led to his deportation).”
But Commodore Attygalle added that the federal government still needed to show more mettle on returning failed Tamil asylum-seekers, and that deporting just one man was little more than a token measure that would not stop the boats.
“Ninety-nine per cent of (Sri Lankan) asylum-seekers to Australia are Tamils so they needed to signal that they will not be accepted.
“It is a token measure your government has done but I think it’s not really going to suffice.”
Mr Anthony flew back into Colombo early Thursday morning in the custody of Australian immigration officials and was handed over to the Sri Lankan authorities. He was held for questioning for 16 hours before fronting a government press conference to recant all previous claims of torture against authorities there.
Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority have complained of their systematic persecution by Sinhalese-dominated governments since the island nation gained independence from Britain in 1948.
While the Sri Lankan government is now de-mining and funnelling development money to the war-ravaged and former Tamil Tiger-held north, the UN said last November it was still “seriously concerned about the continued and consistent allegations of the widespread use of torture” in police custody.
This week, Tamil diaspora communities across the world mark the 29th anniversary of the 1983 riots — know as Black July — where hundreds of Sri Lankan Tamils were killed in violence triggered by reports of Tamil Tiger attacks against the military in the north.
Until early 2010, more than six months after the Sri Lankan military vanquished the Tamil Tiger resistance in a bloody final crackdown in the country’s north, Australia prioritised acceptance of Tamil refugees. But in April of that year then prime minister Kevin Rudd suspended for three months all Sri Lankan asylum applications while Australia considered the “changed circumstances” in that country.
A number of Sri Lankans have been deported since war ended in May 2009, and at least one remains behind bars in Sri Lanka on people-smuggling charges, but Mr Anthony is understood to be the first Tamil.
Refugee advocates in Australia say there are as many as 150 more Sri Lankan Tamils in detention who have exhausted their avenues of appeal and could face deportation in coming months.
Sri Lankan authorities say that they have detained more than 500 would-be asylum-seekers this month — the highest number on record.
Two more boats carrying a total of 69 Sri Lankans were intercepted early on Monday morning attempting to leave from the western port of Negombo. courtesy: The Australian