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Tamil Tigers join race for asylum – The Australian

[MISC, Monday, 26 October 2009 09:15 No Comment]

A SENIOR member of the Australian Tamil community says former Tamil Tiger fighters are definitely among the influx of boatpeople to arrive on our shores.

Australasian Federation of Tamil Associations secretary Victor Rajakulendran said the high proportion of young men on the boats, coupled with the risks faced by the Tigers in Sri Lanka, made it certain some arrivals were members of the defeated Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam.

Dr Rajakulendran’s remarks came as the Australian Customs vessel Oceanic Viking prepared, after a week at sea, to land today 78 Tamils at the Indonesian detention centre in Tanjung Pinan.

Home Affairs Minister Brendan O’Connor on Saturday revealed 68 adult males on board had commenced a hunger strike in protest at being kept from Australia.

Late yesterday a meeting between Indonesian immigration, police and foreign affairs officials was co-ordinating the arrival of the Viking passengers, including a 12-year-old girl requiring medical assistance.

A police source said the ship would arrive at 10am local time (2pm AEDT) in the port of Kijang, where the asylum-seekers would be loaded on to buses for the 30-minute drive to Tanjung Pinang.

The news came as the Immigration Department prepared to extend the boundaries of Christmas Island’s detention centre to cope with the influx of arrivals, including 32 Tamils believed to have sailed directly from Sri Lanka.

Sources told The Australian that officials were concerned the arrival of the boat heralded a new tactic, with people-smugglers seeking to avoid the Indonesian archipelago due to the success of Australian and Indonesain authorities in interdicting asylum boats.

Were such a tactic to become routine it would render the Rudd government’s "Indonesia solution" virtually redundant.

Foreign Minister Stephen Smith yesterday provided fresh details about the types of co-operation Jakarta and Canberra were considering, citing increased intelligence sharing, greater Australian support for people-smuggling disruption efforts and more funding for Indonesian detention centres.

It is understood Kevin Rudd also raised the issue of people-smuggling in the formal session of the East Asia Summit, held over the weekend in Thailand.

Dr Rajakulendran said many of the Tamils fleeing Sr Lanka had had their passage funded by sympathetic Tamil communities in the West.

Most of those fleeing were young men, some of whom would be ex-fighters, Dr Rajakulendran said.

"There will be definitely, definitely they will be in these boats," he said.

"The ex-combatants are in danger in Sri Lanka so they will have to flee somewhere."

But Dr Rajakulendran said this did not make them a threat to the Australian community.

"They have to be rehabilitated," he said. "They are not going to be fighters here. They were fighting for a cause, even if some of the tactics are unacceptable, they were fighting for a cause. They are not going to fight for a cause here. They are not like Islamic terrorists," he said.

In May the Sri Lankan government defeated the decades-old rebel movement, provoking a humanitarian catastrophe with hundreds of thousands of Tamils displaced and moved into concentration camps.

The Australian understands security agencies already suspect a number of Tamil detainees currently on Christmas Island are ex-fighters, citing the presence of battle-style wounds.

But authorities stress this does not automatically make them a threat as the LTTE often press-ganged young men into military service.

Dr Rajakulendran said the high price of a people-smuggler’s ticket meant it was likely those Tamil boatpeople were receiving funding from the Tamil diaspora.

But he said the funding was not part of any over-arching Tamil campaign, a suggestion put by Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Australia Senaka Walgampaya.

Rather it was concerned families seeking to help relatives at risk.

"Only people who have people overseas can get the help, the financial help like this to come," he said.

"Everybody is on the same boat but people who have help from overseas will be able to pay the smugglers and come. The others will have to struggle there."

Yesterday, four of the Sri Lankans on board the Jaya Lestari 5, the wooden cargo ship moored at Merak harbour in western Java, decided to leave the standoff and be processed by Indonesian immigration officials.

The boat was intercepted following a personal request from Mr Rudd to Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

Spokesman "Alex" said there had been no pressure on the group to stay on the boat.

"We have always insisted that if anyone wants to leave the boat, they are free to do so," he said.

The Immigration Department is preparing to extend the boundaries of Christmas Island’s detention centre, which yesterday morning held 903 men, despite being designed to hold up to 800 with a surge capacity of 1200.

The department is planning to place some or all 81 demountables shipped in from the Northern Territory outside the rear perimeter of the $396 million detention centre and erect fencing around them.

The arrival yesterday of 19 male asylum-seekers on Christmas, believed to be mostly Afghans, brought the number of people in immigration detention on the territory to 1148.

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