Australia Opposition says ready to violate UN Refugee Convention

[TamilNet, Monday, 03 September 2012, 03:33 GMT]
Tamil refugees fleeing the island of Sri Lanka to the shores of Australia drew wide media coverage and Australia's law makers rushed in defence of parties' asylum policies as Australian authorities intercepted a boat carrying 81 suspected asylum seekers north-northwest of the Cocos (Keeling) Islands Saturday. While Deputy Opposition Leader Julie Bishop claimed that many asylum seekers from the island of Sri Lanka are economic migrants, and not refugees, and therefore, should be deported before they get access to Australia's legal system, the Immigration Minister in the ruling party said Australia would be breaching UN's 1951 Refugee Convention if the refugees were deported before considering their claims, Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Tamil refugees (Courtesy: SMH)
Tamil refugees (Courtesy: SMH)
The number of asylum seekers has risen tenfold this year as a row erupts over a Coalition plan to automatically reject people arriving from the island nation, the SMH story said, adding, so far in 2012, 2992 people have arrived by boat on Australian shores, compared with 211 in 2011.

Tony Abbott, the Opposition Leader, supported a proposal to "send Sri Lankans immediately home without setting foot on Australia soil."

Cocos Islands
Cocos Islands
Cocos Islands
Cocos Islands
"Returning Eezham Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka which is not even a signatory of the UN's Convention on Refugees will be legally problematic," Tamils Against Genocide (TAG), a US-based activist organization said. "Tamil diaspora in Australia must use the fiercely independent judiciary to ensure that Eezham Tamils are treated as equal citizens under international law.

"Melbourne Court's recent over-turning of US's extradition request acceded to by the Australian Attorney General (Executive Branch), and the Opposition's inclination to violate UN Refugee Convention, should alert the diaspora to seek vigorously the intervention of the Judicial Branch to obtain justice for the Tamil refugees in the aftermath of the alleged Genocide," TAG spokesperson further told TamilNet.

The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is the key legal document in defining who is a refugee, their rights and the legal obligations of states. The 1967 Protocol removed geographical and temporal restrictions from the Convention. 148 States are party to one or both of these instruments. Sri Lanka is not a signatory, and therefore, can flout the provisions without any international repercussions.

The cornerstone of the 1951 Convention is the principle of non-refoulement contained in Article 33. According to this principle, a refugee should not be returned to a country where he or she faces serious threats to his or her life or freedom.
    Article 33
    1. No Contracting State shall expel or return (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.
    2. The benefit of the present provision may not, however, be claimed by a refugee whom there are reasonable grounds for regarding as a danger to the security of the country in which he is, or who, having been convicted by a final judgement of a particularly serious crime, constitutes a danger to the community of that country.
Australian Tamil Congress, a Tamil diaspora organization, in a press release issued Monday, said: "From our experience having worked with a large number of Tamil refugees, we know for certain of the continuing prosecution of Tamils, human rights activists and media workers in Sri Lanka, and the continuing effects of torture and trauma experienced by the refugees currently in Australia. Such [Opposition's] generalized statement from responsible political parties only dilutes and over simplifies this very real problem," the statement added.


Related Articles:
01.09.12   Australian Court denies US extradition request
30.08.12   Worsening SL economy drives Sinhalese, Muslims to take boats..
08.07.12   New refugee vessels head for Australia from Jaffna, Vanni
22.06.12   Rajapaksa's son starts human trafficking from Vanni to Austr..
31.05.12   British Court finds Sri Lanka torture allegations credible, ..
14.12.11   TAG files legal challenge to UK deportation policy

External Links:
SMH: Big increase in number of Sri Lankans putting to sea
ABC: Coalition wants Sri Lankan asylum seekers deported
SMH: Bowen slams coalition's boat people call
UNHCR: Convention relating to the Status of Refugees


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