A Ganesh Nadar reports on how a group of Sri Lankan refugees from India managed to sail all the way to Australia to seek asylum there.
Australia has detained a boat with 157 asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka on a remote island. The boat was flying an Indian flag and had set off from an Indian port.
Highly placed sources told rediff.com that this was one of three ships that were recently bought by Indian smugglers based on the east coast. They were initially used to smuggle gold and drugs, but have recently turned to human trafficking as the risks are less and it is more lucrative.
Most of the Sri Lankan Tamils had come to India and settled down in and around Pondicherry. They also made arrangements with lawyers in Australia to fight their case for asylum there based on human rights issues.
They then contacted Lankans staying in the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu who put them in touch with the human smugglers. The Lankans had to pay Rs 50,000 per head for the arduous and risky journey to Australia.
Once they neared the Australian shore they sent a distress signal. The Australians saved them on humanitarian grounds, but when the lawyers descended as if on cue, the Australian government placed them in isolation.
An Indian government representative met them as the ship was flying an Indian flag. The refugees on the advice of their lawyers refused to meet the Indian officials. This was because they did not want the Australians to differentiate the ones who had come from Lanka and the ones who had come from Indian refugee camps.
The Organisation for Eelam Refugees' Rehabilitation is a respected NGO that fights for the Lankan Tamil cause around the world. OFERR founder Chandrahasan told rediff.com, “We have been repeatedly organising meetings in the refugee camps and have been telling them that we have an obligation to go back to our motherland which is Lanka.
“If you don’t want to go back, then stay here, without troubling our host. If you want to go to Australia or any other country you must first go back to Lanka. From there you can go where you please.”
“Under no circumstances must you run away from here and embarrass the Indian people and government.”
He added that he was saddened by the fact that these refugees had borrowed money to pay for this ill-advised trip. “Their wives and children are left behind with debts here. How can they pay their debts here with the earning member in jail in Australia? I cannot understand why these people take such risks.”
“The Indian government will certainly not accept them back, as their running away is an insult to their hospitality. We hope such incidents do not happen in future.”