The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHRC) is in the process of revising its earlier circular of 5th July 2010 that declared normalcy in Sri Lanka, said Mr Richard Towle, Resident Representative of UNHCR in Australia, in a meeting held at Auckland on 19 November. He was responding to a question from Mr. A. Theva Rajan, President of the New Zealand Tamil Senior Citizens Association at its annual conference on refugee related matters held at Auckland under the auspicious of the UNHRC.
“From time to time, we, as a routine, do issue guidelines on policies in general and on policy changes as to certain countries. It is true that we issued a guideline in 2010. That was based on our view as at the material time in 2010. We do agree that the situation today is different. We are in the process of revising that circular and we will issue a revised circular soon,” said Mr Richard Towle.
He was responding to Mr. Theva Rajan who pointed out that according to the circular in question no Sri Lankan Tamil need be given refugee status any more as the situation in the home country has been restored to normalcy save in high profile risk cases like journalists and politically aligned people.
This circular has failed to take into consideration some basic facts relating to Sri Lanka’s ground situation. The Government’s genocidal actions are still continuing unabated, Theva Rajan said.
Peoples lands and homes and their age long means of livelihoods – farming and fishing – are being plundered by the occupying Army and the state aided Sinhala settlers brought from outside Sinhala areas. It is a scenario of continuing genocide within an open prison and iron curtain where outsiders including independent Journalists are still forbidden. The Government is enforcing a calculated policy of deprivation – deprivation of food, clothing, shelter, means of livelihood, nutrition for children, education for children and all that is essential for an ethnic group to survive as an ethnic group. Above all the inherent human dignity. Foreign dignitaries who wine and dine with the powers that be, after being taken on guided tours by the occupying Army and Agencies enforcing genocidal policies shamelessly speak well of the Government rubbing salt on the injured Tamil community writhing in pain, the New Zealand civil society activist told the UNHRC representative.
Continuing further, he referred to the myths spun around boat refugees . Continuous life risking journeys on unsafe boats across high seas only testify to the continuing life threatening situation still prevailing at home. Please help to free the Tamils from the clutches of a murderous racist Government by taking action at international forums without demonising the poor asylum seekers
Through years of experience on the refugee issue, the international aid workers and NGOs and Immigration Lawyers in particular were pointing at the need to widen the scope of the Convention Reason and allow more space for growing number of real refugees. But to the contrary countries like Australia and Canada and New Zealand too are enacting laws without a sense of humanism to demonise the refugees. The UN Convention wants refugees to be treated with compassion and dignity. Here they are being further subjected to mental torture and forced to live in situations without basic amenities – a direct violation of the UN Convention – forced into a situation even worse than that which they experienced at home, Theva Rajan said.
His views were welcomed with a round of applause by all the participants. Another speaker demonstrated the role of the media and ill informed politicians in demonising boat refugees. The speaker referred to an incident where girl students of the age of 12 at a school in Australia when asked as to who they would support – whether asylum seekers or refugee claimants. They said asylum seekers because they came in the proper way and asked for asylum whereas the refugee claimants gate crashed and wanted refugee status. In the former case their application would be formally processed and decided. The students showed a sense contempt on the refugee claimants. The speaker attributed this demonization of boat refugees to the wild campaign of media and the irresponsible utterances of ill informed politicians. All speakers condemned the treatment of boat refugees by the respective countries.
Mr. Richard Towle, the resident representative in Australia gave a patient hearing to all the views expressed and said that they as a UN body always persuaded the countries involved and tried to uphold the UN Refugee principle. Failures were not due to inaction on the part of the UNHCR. It was due to the policies adopted by individual countries. But the UNHCR will fight on, he said.
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