Sri Lankans Push To Grab Absconders

Sri Lankans push to grab absconders

The Sydney Morning Herald
January 22, 2010

THE Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Rohitha Bogollagama, says his government wants access to asylum seekers who flee his country for nations like Australia because they may have been involved in serious crimes, including terrorism.

He has also urged the United Nations not to rush the process of assessing refugee status for Sri Lankan asylum seekers.

His comments come less than a fortnight after four Sri Lankan Tamils picked up at sea by the supply vessel Oceanic Viking, and granted refugee status by the UN were denied visas to Australia because ASIO deemed them a security threat.

''We want access to asylum seekers when they have been detained and apprehended on other's soil. That's how we look at it.'' Mr Bogollagama said in Colombo. ''Those who have violated the laws of Sri Lanka and tried to migrate through illegal channels that undermines our goodwill and all our efforts and our security.''

Sri Lanka faced a barrage of international criticism last year over alleged human rights violations during the final stages of its 26-year civil war.

Mr Bogollagama said he appreciated how Australia had been less publicly critical than some Western countries.

''I think Australia understands the facts better. That is why they have been very positive of Sri Lanka's profile. I appreciate that they are studying Sri Lanka well and they have made their position known in terms of reflecting on Sri Lanka correctly.''

Since the end of the civil war between Tamil rebels and the Sri Lankan Army in May there has been a sharp rise in the number of Tamil asylum seekers arriving by boat in Australian waters.

There should be a ''considered approach'' to the assessment of these asylum claims, Mr Bogollagama said. ''The UN should not rush into declaring asylum seekers as deserving asylum. That also compromises our position as a sovereign state to investigate some of these people wanted in terms of local crime and wanted for crimes in Sri Lanka.''

Australia cannot deport the four considered a security threat to Sri Lanka because that would breach the UN Refugee Convention. Mr Bogollagama would not say if his government had helped ASIO with its investigation of those who were on board the Ocean Viking.

Sri Lanka will hold presidential elections on Tuesday, and the incumbent, Mahinda Rajapaksa, faces a strong challenge from the former army chief Sarath Fonseka. However, Mr Bogollagama said he did not believe Sri Lanka's policies on asylum seekers would change, regardless of the result.

The president of the Refugee Council of Australia, John Gibson, said the request for access to asylum seekers was absurd.

''It is totally contrary to the spirit and principles underlying the refugee convention to grant access to officials from a would-be persecuting state,'' he said. ''The UNHCR has clearly stated this fundamental position.''

The Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, said those wanting contact with their home government were offered it.

''People who are placed in immigration detention, including irregular maritime arrivals, are entitled to consular access if requested, but the decision, in each case, is a matter for the individual.''