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UNHCR: Tamils No Longer Default Refugees

Jul 5, 2010 7:23:25 PM - thesundayleader.lk

The UNHCR has declared that, post-war, Tamils will no longer be presumed to be refugees fleeing imminent harm. The report states “Given the cessation of hostilities, Sri Lankans originating from the north of the country are no longer in need of international protection under broader refugee criteria or complementary forms of protection solely on the basis of risk of indiscriminate harm.” This change may have immediate effects in Australia which has been grappling to deal with an influx of boat people from Afghanistan and Sri Lanka. All refugee applications had been frozen for three months pending this report. Now the government may have authority to take a tougher stand.

During the war, especially the latter phases, Tamil people (especially from the North) were presumed to be at risk if they were sent back to Sri Lanka. Now, however, the report states “In light of the improved human rights and security situation in Sri Lanka, there is no longer a need for group-based protection mechanisms or for a presumption of eligibility for Sri Lankans of Tamil ethnicity originating from the north of the country.” It qualifies this to say that all cases should still be considered on their individual merits. The report says that former LTTE members, journalists, human rights activists, homosexuals and women abuse victims remain at risk and should have their claims considered carefully.

According to the UNHCR, asylum claims by Sri Lankans have dropped 35% from the same period in 2009. Australia, however, has seen an increase in arrivals which even helped destabilize the government of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd. “At least 75 boats have arrived so far this year, carrying around 3,500 people, compared with about 60 boats last year and less than a dozen boats in 2008, according to government statistics (New York Times).

Incoming Prime Minister Julia Gillard moved quickly to address this issue and is expected to release a new border policy this week. “My view is many in the community feel anxious when they see asylum seeker boats, and obviously we as a government want to manage our borders,” she said, in the NYTimes report. Australian papers like The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald are predicting that the new policy will be tougher.

This report shows that while the UN has appointed a panel to advise Ban Ki Moon on human rights issues, it also acknowledges that conditions have improved to the point that the country is now considered safe for northern Tamils to return. This decision will have an immediate effect on refugees currently waiting to be processed in Australia, those wanting to immigrate from Sri Lanka now and those who have claimed refugee status in the past.

Sources: Download the UNCHR report