The Sri Lankans: being a refugee just ain't cricket...
"Another boatload of illegals safely deported to be punished on Nauru..." - these must be the current thoughts of Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who, together with his new Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, just this week (Saturday March 17, 2007) shipped 83 Sri Lankans off to the "bird-poo island" of Nauru.
What remains highly remarkable in this new episode, which started with the NAVY refuelling vessel MS Success, in February 2007, intercepting a boatload of Sri Lankans sailing for Christmas Island, is how history seems to be repeating itself, how Australia remains "karmically linked" to the first days of its colonial start two centuries ago: everyone who dares sailing for our shores, are either convicts or they should be regarded as convicts, and they should be punished for doing so without being invited...
While the Immigration Minister wanted to keep everything a secret after AAP reported the interception of "a mystery boat" on February 20, it was Project SafeCom that broke the news nationally with this press release on February 22 - so we could force the Minister into issuing a press statement just three hours later.
Already secret negotiations between the Immigration Minister - in collaboration with DFAT's Alexander Downer for Foreign Affairs - and Indonesia were underway, in an attempt to force the Sri Lankans back to Indonesia - a blatant breach of the UN Refugee Convention. The outcry in the Australian community of human rights organisations tempered the plans, and the next best thing, exporting the men to Nauru - also a Convention breach - was accomplished, in our opinion once again to Australia's shame.
On this page, some of the news reports, some of the photos, all of our Press releases, and the full text of the December 2006 UNHCR report: "UNHCR's Position on the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Sri Lanka".
23 September 2007: Sri Lankans: you're all refugees, but not in Australia! - "What kind of country has Australia become? This is the question Australians again have to ask themselves in the wake of the Federal Government's disturbing decision to deny 72 Sri Lankans, who have been found to be genuine refugees, the right to settle in Australia."
3 July 2007: Sri Lankan Desperation on Nauru: "we now live with indefinite expectation..." - There's something eerie about refugees, locked up and away from their human rights, celebrating World Refugee Week - but that's exactly what happened in the week of 17th to 23rd June with the Sri Lankans we sent to Nauru after they sought Australia's protection. They sent us photos and a letter; here they are.
Arrival on Christmas Island
Boarding the flight to Nauru
Refugee boat picked up near Christmas Is
The West Australian
A boatload of 85 Sri Lankans are being housed on board a naval ship after being intercepted heading to Christmas Island. Border protection officials have been monitoring the leaky boat since it was first spotted by a plane on Monday.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews said the group agreed to come on board HMAS Success on Wednesday night, and would remain there temporarily. Mr Andrews said the vessel was not engaged in any legitimate commercial activity and the men were "potential unauthorised arrivals". His office said the men had indicated their intention to reach Christmas Island but had "not expressed any particular intent" towards claiming asylum.
HMAS Success intercepted the boat in international waters, about 50 nautical miles from Christmas Island, early Tuesday. "During subsequent contact between HMAS Success and those on the boat, it was determined that their vessel was unseaworthy," Mr Andrews said in a statement.
"Because of fears for their safety if they remained on the unseaworthy vessel, the group agreed to come aboard HMAS Success last night ... This group will remain on board HMAS Success until more details are available."
Mr Andrews' office could not say where the men would be taken next. "Once all the initials are done, all their health and wellbeing checks, then obviously some decision will be made about forward steps," a spokeswoman said. The men appeared to be in good health, his office said.
Refugee advocates said Thursday it was likely the men will be taken to a detention centre on Christmas Island or to Nauru for processing under the so-called "Pacific Solution". But they called on the government to bring the men to Australia for processing if they attempt to claim asylum.
WA-based Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit expressed concerns that while the men remained on the ship their treatment could not be scrutinised.
David Manne from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre said the immigration minister had discretion to intervene and allow the men to apply for protection in Australia.
"What is essential is they get independent assistance to help them explain their case," he said.
Greens immigration spokeswoman senator Kerrie Nettle agreed the men should be given legal support so they understood their rights.
"If they are (asylum seekers), the Greens believe they should be brought to the mainland so they can be processed while they live in the community," she said.
"We don't want them on Christmas Island where it's more expensive to keep them and they don't get the same level of support and legal assistance, and we certainly don't want them take to Nauru."
Senator Nettle said it cost $225,000 last time the government took eight people to Nauru.
Christmas Island, about 2,300km north-west of Perth and 500km south of Jakarta, Indonesia, was excised from Australia's migration zone in 2001 in a bid to curb asylum seekers.
The government is building a new immigration detention centre on the island, which will hold up to 800 detainees and replace a temporary centre set up in 2001 when it becomes operational later this year.
Should the men attempt to seek asylum, they will be the first since a group of 43 Papuans caused a diplomatic row between Australia and Indonesia last year.
The 36 adults and seven children, who had accused the Indonesian military of conducting genocide in their homeland, were granted temporary protection visas after arriving on Cape York in January.
Navy tries to drive 85 boatpeople back out to sea
AUSTRALIAN authorities tried to turn 85 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in an unseaworthy vessel back to sea after intercepting them off the West Australian coast three days ago.
The asylum-seekers, all men, are now aboard the former Gulf War navy vessel HMAS Success in international waters about 50 nautical miles off Christmas Island.
They remain in limbo while they are in international waters because they must reach Christmas Island if they want to make claims for asylum, which would be dealt with by Australia's offshore processing system.
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship last night confirmed the boat, thought to have been sailed from Indonesia by people-smugglers, was intercepted by Success on Tuesday off Christmas Island.
Labor last night questioned new Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews's handling of the case, in particular the lengthy delay between intercepting the boat and releasing details to the public.
Before an election later this year, the interception of the boat bears some similarities to the Tampa refugee case in 2001, which shaped the federal poll that year.
The Australian understands that crew members from Success tried to repair the sabotaged engine of the latest vessel so that the 85 men could be turned back.
International laws of the sea dictate that the crew of an unseaworthy vessel should be taken to the nearest port. Defence sources said initial efforts to repair the vessel were unsuccessful.
A statement from Mr Andrews issued after 5pm yesterday confirmed the men, who all appeared to be in good health, boarded Success on Wednesday after being intercepted early on Tuesday. "Because of fears for their safety if they remained on the unseaworthy vessel, the group agreed to come aboard HMAS Success last night (Wednesday)," he said.
Mr Andrews said the boat had been en route to Christmas Island and was not engaged in "any legitimate commercial activity".
However, he did not reveal where the group would be taken. "The Government's primary concern at this stage is for their health and wellbeing," he said. "This group will remain on board HMAS Success until more details are available."
Options available to the Government include taking the men to Christmas Island, where there is an existing detention centre as well as a new 800-bed facility, which is being built for about $240 million.
The Howard Government's efforts to discourage boatpeople since the Tampa incident, including excising islands from Australia's migration zone and sending all unauthorised boat arrivals to offshore processing centres such as Nauru, have proved successful.
The last big arrival was the 43 Papuan asylum-seekers who arrived by boat on Cape York in January last year, sparking a diplomatic incident with Indonesia.
Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke last night said the Government must explain why it delayed in revealing details of the latest operation. "The minister should explain why the decision was taken that this operation would be kept secret from the Australian public for so long," Mr Burke said.
He said it was essential for Australia to have policies that prevent people-smuggling operations.
"There is nothing compassionate in desperate people having their lives put at risk by people smugglers on the high seas," he said.
Refugee rights group Project SafeCom yesterday called for the men to be brought to Australia. Spokesman Jack Smit also claimed that the lights in the new Christmas Island detention centre were tested during the week after the men were intercepted.
"Australia and Australians have nothing to fear from Sri Lankans, we know them well, we even win from them when we play cricket," Mr Smit said.
A Sri Lankan embassy spokesman was unaware yesterday of the plight of the men.
A US State Department report says Sri Lankan security forces have committed extrajudicial killings as part of the Government's fight against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, which is fighting for a separate ethnic Tamil state in the north and east of the country.
The conflict has claimed more than 64,000 lives, while clashes have displaced more than 150,000 people.
In 2001, the MV Tampa assisted an unseaworthy wooden fishing boat carrying 438 asylum seekers after it was detected by a Coastwatch surveillance flight about 80 nautical miles northwest of Christmas Island.
The Norwegian freighter picked up the asylum-seekers and began to head towards Christmas Island but was instructed to remain in the contiguous zone before reaching Australia's territorial waters.
On August 28 that year, the Tampa issued a distress signal seeking urgent assistance and the following day it proceeded into the territorial sea where it was interdicted by Special Air Service officers.
Additional reporting: Samantha Maiden
Outcry over secret refugee deal
REFUGEE advocates have condemned the Federal Government's apparent attempts to prevent a group of Sri Lankan boat people claiming asylum in Australia.
The 85 men 83 Sri Lankans and two Indonesians were rescued by an Australian navy ship in international waters near Christmas Island this week after sabotaging their fishing boat.
It had been expected that many would apply for asylum in Australia and be taken to Nauru or Christmas Island for processing.
But it was reported today the Government had struck a secret deal with Jakarta and Colombo to send the asylum seekers back to Sri Lanka via Indonesia.
The policy would be an even more hardline approach than the Howard Government's Pacific solution, introduced amid the Tampa episode in 2001, whereby asylum seekers are sent to offshore detention centres to have their claims determined.
Jakarta is not a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention, meaning the Sri Lankans may not be able to claim asylum if they are sent to Indonesia.
Project SafeCom, a West Australian refugee advocacy group, today said the deal would see Prime Minister John Howard ride roughshod over Australia's international obligations.
"(It) could well make John Howard into the United Nations' High Commissioner for Refugees' (UNHCR) most wanted criminal, if breaches against the United Nations Refugee Convention had criminal charges attached to them," said spokesman Jack Smit.
Democrats senator Andrew Bartlett urged the Government not to send the men back to Sri Lanka, where civil war rages between the military and Tamil Tiger rebels based in the country's north.
Senator Bartlett said the group of men could include Tamil people whose lives could be in danger if they were returned to Sri Lanka.
"Tamil people (are) at great risk of harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention, torture, abduction and killing," he said.
"The fact that the Government could even contemplate sending asylum seekers back without proper assessment is a complete and utter disgrace."
Asylum seekers talks reach stalemate
By David Crawshaw
TALKS between Australia and Indonesia have failed to secure a breakthrough about what to do with 83 Sri Lankan asylum seekers being held on Christmas Island.
Discussions continued today as the Federal Government tried to convince Jakarta to accept the group and guarantee their claims would be heard by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Indonesia.
The Sri Lankans, along with two Indonesians detained with them, are being held in the temporary detention facility built on Christmas Island in 2001, as the government's much-vaunted new centre is not yet up and running.
Among the detainees is a 17-year-old boy being accommodated with an adult in a housing unit outside the detention centre.
The 85 men were detained after their boat was intercepted by HMAS Success in international waters on February 20.
Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews today said he would like the Sri Lankans returned to Indonesia, from where they sailed to Australia, to have the UNHCR assess their claims, as this was a stronger deterrent to people smugglers than processing them on Christmas Island.
"How do we send the strongest message of deterrence? If they spent a lot of money getting to Australia and end up back in Indonesia, that's a pretty strong message of deterrence," Mr Andrews said.
Australia has said it would not send the men back to Indonesia if it meant they would then be returned to Sri Lanka, where they could face persecution.
"We won't send them to Indonesia if we don't get an assurance from Indonesia that the process of resettlement should occur in Indonesia under the UN protocols," Mr Andrews said.
"We want an assurance that that will happen in Indonesia and that they wouldn't be sent back to Sri Lanka. If we don't get that assurance then the Indonesian option's out."
While discussions with Indonesian officials are ongoing, Nauru has already indicated it is willing to accept the men.
Mr Andrews acknowledged the Sri Lankans may have genuine claims for refugee status, given the violence in their homeland which intensified today when three western diplomats were injured in a Tamil Tiger mortar attack.
"We're not making a judgment on whether or not they've got a legitimate claim to refugee status. We're simply saying that in terms of protecting Australia's national security, then people who wish to claim refugee status and be resettled in Australia should go through the process in the proper way," he said.
Christmas Island shire president Gordon Thomson called for the men to be processed on the island or the Australian mainland, saying it was pointless to send them offshore.
Indonesia's director of immigration investigation and law enforcement, Syaiful Rachman, said yesterday that if the men were returned to Indonesia they would be sent immediately to Sri Lanka.
"It could change, but principally, they cannot stay here in Indonesia," he said.
Refugee group Project SafeCom said the men should not be sent to Indonesia, citing concerns that Sri Lanka's ambassador to Jakarta had faced allegations of human rights abuses and would be able to obtain the men's personal details, potentially endangering their families.
"Their names and details would be shared with Sri Lankan high commissioner Janaka Perera, who was under a cloud when he was the high commissioner designate to Australia some years ago," spokesman Jack Smit said.
Opposition immigration spokesman Tony Burke said the two Indonesians on board the asylum seekers' fishing boat appeared to be smugglers, and they should be charged.
Asylum seeker watches as five friends are shot
Sydney Morning Herald
ONE of the 82 Sri Lankan asylum seekers being sent to the Australian detention centre on Nauru this weekend says he has witnessed five of his student friends being murdered.
The ethnic Tamil, 20, said yesterday he had been beaten and imprisoned after the killings last year, in which the victims were shot by Sri Lankan soldiers.
A 17-year-old in the group, which the navy intercepted last month, will be detained on Nauru at night but, because of his age, he will be allowed out during the day.
The detainees are moving from Christmas Island to Nauru after the Foreign Affairs Minister, Alexander Downer, failed to have them returned to Indonesia, their last departure point.
The proposal backfired when Indonesia said that if they were returned the Sri Lankans would be sent home without processing of their asylum claims by United Nations refugee officials.
The office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has previously criticised Australia's offshore detention of boat arrivals, including a lack of legal representation and access to courts.
A spokeswoman for the Immigration Minister, Kevin Andrews, said the processing of asylum claims would be handled on Nauru by departmental officials.
Mr Andrews last night retracted a statement that the International Organisation for Migration, which Australia is paying to provide logistical support including interpreters on Nauru, was acting as an "agency" for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.
"I am happy to admit I made a mistake in those words," Mr Andrews said in an ABC radio interview. He said Australian officials would use UN protocols as a basis for asylum decisions. The embarrassing correction came as Mr Andrews said the first requests for such legal advice were received yesterday and had been agreed to.
UNHCR Position on the International Protection Needs of Asylum-Seekers from Sri Lanka
Since the issuance of the last Background Paper on Refugees and Asylum-Seekers from Sri Lanka  by UNHCR in April 2004, there have been several major developments in the country which fundamentally affect the international protection needs of individuals from that country who seek, or have sought, asylum abroad.
The aim of this position is to provide an update on the situation and set out guidance on assessing various categories of asylum claims of individuals from Sri Lanka.
B. Update on Developments
The period of significant improvement in the situation in Sri Lanka, as a result of the Cease Fire Agreement  signed in 2002 between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam (LTTE), which led to peace negotiations  brokered by Norway, started to unravel in 2005. The assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005 was attributed by the authorities to the LTTE. A state of emergency was declared which remains in force. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaske, won the presidential elections of November 2005  on a platform that included a pledge to seek a solution to the ethnic conflict within the context of a unitary state.
In 2004, there was a major internal uprising within the ranks of the LTTE forces in the East.  The uprising, led by "Colonel" Kamna, seriously weakened the LTTE and exacerbated the overall situation of violence and human rights abuses. Accusations made by the main LTTE faction against the Karuna faction that it collaborated with government forces became a major impediment to the peace talks. 
Since January 2006 the security situation, in particular in the North and East, further deteriorated with a marked increase in hostilities. Repeated violations of the ceasefire occurred on both sides, and culminated on 25 April 2006 with a female suicide bomber detonating a bomb inside an army camp in Colombo, seriously injuring the Army Commander, Lt. Gen. Fonseka. The Air Force conducted air strikes in Sampur and more violence followed. Although to date neither the Government nor the LTTE have officially renounced the Cease Fire Agreement, there is consensus among the UN, NGO and civil society leaders, at both the local and international levels, that the violence which unfolded in the North and East  during the summer of 2006 is "clearly illustrative of non-international armed conflict".  There have been sparse and inconclusive talks between the Government and LTTE. Even the most recent encounter in Geneva during October 2006  did not produce any significant changes on the ground.
In the East, the outbreak of violence in Trincomalee District in July 2006 following the closure by the LTTE of the sluice gates at Maavil Am, resulted in large-scale displacement. [l0] At the beginning of August 2006, thousands of Muslims fled from Muttur to Kantale, and large numbers of Tamils fled from Muttur, Thopur and Sampoor into Trincomalee Town and Batticaloa District. In total, nearly 50,000 people were displaced in Trincomalee District by the end of the month. [ll] The majority of the internally displaced Muslims have since returned to Muttur  but most of the internally displaced Tamils remain displaced. 
In the North, as of mid-August 2006, Jaffna Peninsula has been the scene of heavy fighting between the LTTE and government forces, particularly along the Northern Forward Defence lines. Curfews have been imposed throughout Jaffna District since 11 August, lifted only intermittently during the day. The main A9 road, linking Jaffna to the mainland, was closed in August.  The fighting in the peninsula has taken a heavy toll on civilians, with some 60,282 persons (15,935 families) newly displaced by mid September.  Two months later, this number had been more than tripled. The combined impact of the curfews, restrictions on movements, fishing restrictions and closure of the A9 road has been especially harsh for civilians, restricting freedom of movement and livelihood activities. Despite the Government's efforts to supply Jaffna with essential food, medical supplies and other humanitarian assistance by sea, there are serious shortages and prices have increased dramatically.
With frequent confrontations between the parties to the conflict, which included aerial bombings, long-range shelling and claymore mines, the civilian population in the East and North face the risk of being caught in the crossfire. This has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties and displacement.  By mid-November, 204,163 persons (56,272 families) had been displaced in government-controlled and LTTE-controlled areas.  These new displacements are in addition to the 312,712 persons displaced before the Cease Fire Agreement. Furthermore, over 16,000 Sri Lankans have fled to southern India since January 2006.
There are indications that all sides are drawing civilians into the conflict, and not respecting individual's rights to seek safety and/or remain in displacement for as long as they deem it necessary for their own security. The Government has coerced displaced communities into going back to their homes before they were ready to do so for example in Jaffna and Muttur; and the LTTE has prevented communities from fleeing areas where their lives might be in danger from military attack for example in Vahari in Batticaloa District. The LTTE also has a practice of mandatory civil defence training, even in areas under government control. This includes the issuance of a training card as proof of participation. Non-possession of the training card in LTTE-controlled areas can lead to, among others, restrictions on freedom of movement. These may seriously impact the ability of individuals to secure a livelihood. In government-controlled areas, individuals suspected of having participated in LTTE training may be perceived as LTTE sympathizers, even if the participation was pressured.
There is evidence of increasing communal violence, and human rights violations affecting many communities including mob attacks and the burning of villages such as happened during the communal violence which followed the Trincomalee market bomb in April 2006. There are allegations that the Government has not always been evenhanded in repressing or preventing such violence.  All sides have reportedly provoked fear among local communities, resulting in their flight from the areas concerned. Provocations have included threats, extrajudicial killings or dumping of bodies in public places (some tied, blindfolded and gagged with multiple stab wounds or beheaded), which also have the wider effect of increasing ethnic tensions. 
Humanitarian aid delivery is increasingly restricted due to bureaucratic hurdles, lack of humanitarian access and threats and attacks on humanitarian workers. In one of the worst acts of violence against humanitarian workers, 17 national staff members of the French organization, Action Contre la Faim (ACF), were killed in their office in Muttur in early August.  On Wednesday 30 August, the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM) ruled that the Sri Lankan government forces were responsible for the killing of the ACF workers, describing the incident as "a gross violation of the CFA [ceasefire accord] by the security forces of Sri Lanka." 
Overall conditions in displacement sites are extremely poor.  There is severe overcrowding, a lack of adequate sanitation, shelter and water, and particularly in LTTE-controlled areas, limited access by humanitarian actors. Furthermore, the security situation is serious and there are reports of infiltration and forced recruitment by the LTTE and the Karuna faction in IDP camps.
(a) Tamils  from the North and East 
In addition to the situation of widespread insecurity and the impact of the armed conflict in the North and East, Tamils in and from these regions are at risk of targeted violations of their human rights from all parties to the armed conflict. Harassment, intimidation, arrest, detention, torture, abduction and killing at the hands of government forces, the LTTE and paramilitary or armed groups are frequently reported to be inflicted on Tamils from the North and East.
Individuals suspected of having LTTE affiliations are at risk of human rights abuses by the authorities or allegedly government sponsored paramilitary groups. 5 In the same manner, those who refuse to support the LTTE and those who are perceived as supporters or sympathizers of the Government, risk serious violations of human rights from the LTTE. The LTTE views itself as the sole political representative of the Tamil population and no dissent is tolerated. Tamils who are perceived as opposing the LTTE, including those suspected of being government informants, those who are active in other political parties, and even those occupying low-grade government positions, are at risk of assassination.
Since the start of the ceasefire in 2002, the LTTE has been implicated in more than 200 targeted killings, mostly of Tamils viewed as being political opponents. The LTTE has proven on numerous occasions that it can track down its opponents throughout the country, and kill them, as illustrated by the number of targeted killings and the increased number of claymore and other explosive devises discovered and detonated in Colombo and elsewhere in government-controlled areas.
Paramilitary units travel in unmarked white vans and are reportedly responsible for some of the disappearances which have increased dramatically in 2006. Sixty-two cases of disappearances in the North of the country have been registered by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka over the past year. The Commission is also investigating the status of 183 other individuals who are still missing. Apart from alleged state sponsored paramilitary groups, the army, the LTTE, armed elements of the Eelam People's Democratic Party (EPDP, a Tamil opposition party with associations with the security forces), and the Karuna faction have also been implicated in abductions, disappearances, extrajudicial killings and other forms of persecution. Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Philip Alston, who visited Sri Lanka from 28 November to 6 December 2005, stated in his report that extrajudicial killings are "symptomatic of the widespread use of police torture, the failure to rein in abuses committed or tolerated by the military" 3 I , and of the "systematic efforts by various armed groups, and particularly the LTTE, to kill Tamils who refuse to support the LTTE and to provoke military retaliation.',
Young Tamil men and women continue to be at risk of forced recruitment by the LTTE and/or Karuna faction in the North and East of the country. While the LTTE reportedly relies on forced recruitment in areas under its control, the Karuna faction is reported to undertake forced recruitment in government-controlled areas. Although both the LTTE and the Karuna faction deny allegations of forced recruitment, there is considerable pressure on every family to contribute at least one fighter. Since the escalation of hostilities in the East, there has been an increase in open recruitment by the Karuna faction, including in displacement sites. Families of those forcibly recruited are often afraid to report these abductions for fear of reprisals. Many people have fled the North and East to escape competing pressures from both the LTTE and the Karuna faction and in fear of retaliation if they do not comply. Retaliation could be of a severe nature, which may include torture and other forms of human rights abuses of sufficient severity as to amount to persecution.
Children, in particular, are at risk of violation of their human rights through military recruitment.34 Underage recruitment is reported to take place in both LTTE and government-controlled areas, the latter allegedly by the Karuna faction. It should be emphasized that underage recruitment itself is a serious violation of children's rights an amounts to persecution.
Following the suicide attack on the Army Commander Lieutenant-General Sarath Fonseka on 25 April 2006, the authorities have returned to pre-ceasefire security arrangements. As a result, many checkpoints have been re-instated on the main roads and in the towns in the North and East or in Colombo, making it particularly difficult for Tamils to travel in government-controlled areas. For those who were born in LTTE controlled areas (this is indicated on the National Identity Card), it is difficult to cross the checkpoints and they face varying levels of harassment.
Restrictions on freedom of movement have also had a negative impact on humanitarian access and delivery of assistance. Whilst some supplies are reaching the civilian populations through government convoys or boats, as well as through UN and ICRC convoys, there are severe shortages of food, fuel, medical supplies and other essential items throughout the Jaffna Peninsula and in LTTE-controlled areas (in Kilinochchi, Mulaitivu, parts of Mannar, Vavuniya, Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts).
Government forces are not present in LTTE-controlled areas in the North or East; hence individuals from the North or East who seek the protection of the Government would need to travel to government-controlled areas. Apart from the insecurity related to the armed conflict, the LTTE has also restricted movements of civilians out of the LTTE controlled areas, thus preventing them from moving into government-controlled areas. Even if an individual reaches government-controlled areas, it does not necessarily mean that she/he will be able to secure the protection of the authorities, particularly if the individual is being targeted for attack by the LTTE, given the LTTE's capacity to track down and target its opponents throughout the country.
b) Tamils from Colombo
Tamils in Colombo and its outskirts, where there are large Tamil communities, are at heightened risk of security checks, arbitrary personal and house to house searches, harassment, restrictions on freedom of movement, and other forms of abuse since the imposition of new security regulations in April and December 2006.
Under emergency regulations, the police are empowered to register all persons within the jurisdiction of each police station. These regulations, which were enacted during the height of the conflict in the 1990s, remain in place and require all residents to register with their local police station. Such registration, which is taking place in Colombo, enables the police to have accurate information on the ethnicity and location of all inhabitants of Colombo.
Tamils in Colombo are especially vulnerable to abductions, disappearances and killings.
Such actions are allegedly conducted by the paramilitary "white vans" suspected to be associated with the security forces, as well as by the Karuna faction and the LTTE. According to press reports, some 25 Tamils were abducted in Colombo and its suburbs between 20 August and 2 September 2006, with only two of these people confirmed released. The whereabouts and fate of the rest remain unknown. Young Tamil professionals including several women , businessmen, as well as Tamil political figures and activists with a pro-Tamil stance can be specifically targeted.
In addition, a number of well-known pro-Tamil journalists have been abducted and/or killed. The Free Media Movement's (FMM) submission to the inaugural session of the UN Human Rights Council documented numerous instances of journalists assaulted, harassed and threatened, and cited continued attacks on press freedoms in Sri Lanka over the six month period between January and June 2006. According to the report, in the first six months of 2006, there have been increases in search operations at media institutions, arrests of journalists and other forms of harassment, particularly the targeting of Tamil media institutions and media workers. A statement by UNESC0 condemning the killing of Sinnathamby Sivamaharajah, the managing director of Namathu Eelanadu, a Tamil-language newspaper, in Vellippalai on 20 August 2006, stated that four journalists had been killed in Sri Lanka since the beginning of 2005.
c) Muslims from the East (Trincomalee and Batticaloa Districts)
Muslims are particularly vulnerable to human rights abuses from parties to the conflict.
For example, certain Muslims are targeted by the LTTE, such as those suspected of being government informers and those who are perceived as opposed to the LTTE.
Furthermore, Muslims residing near LTTE-controlled areas, or areas contested by the L TIE, in Eastern Sri Lanka are at risk of forced displacement, threats and killings due, in particular, to being caught in the cross-fire during armed hostilities. Those who flee generalized violence in LTTE-controlled areas have the possibility to move to government-controlled areas, however, there may be difficulties encountered in finding means of transport and safe routes.
In August 2006, 50,000 civilians, including Muslims and Tamils, fled Muttur due to heavy fighting in the area. According to reports, Muslims fleeing from Muttur were subjected to a number of serious human rights violations during flight. On or around 4 August, hundreds of Muslim civilians were fleeing the fighting in Muttur and moving towards Kiliveddy town when they were diverted by the L TIE into an area under its control. The army was alerted to the LTTE presence and immediately began to shell the area, killing civilians as well as LTTE cadres, and causing everyone to flee. The fate of at least 32 men, almost all of them Muslims, is unknown, although some reports indicate that they were executed by the LTTE.
Groups of displaced Muslims have come under particular pressure from community leaders and politicians, as well as senior government officials and security forces to return to their places of origin as quickly as possible. This was illustrated when Sampoor was taken by government forces in early September 2006, precipitating a sudden rush by community and political leaders to return the displaced to Muttur just days after the shelling between the LTTE and government forces had ended and before the situation was sufficiently stabilized. Police officers and government officials toured the displacement sites making public announcements promoting return. Government buses were provided to transport Muslims back to Muttur and deadlines for return were issued by government authorities. The displaced populations were told that displacement sites would be closed, food and water cut and basic assistance stopped, giving them no option but to return. While most Muslim families returned willingly to Muttur, some had serious reservations. Muslims who wished to remain in displacement sites for safety purposes faced opposition from government officials and security forces. UNHCR received some reports of individuals who were physically forced by government officials and security forces to return.
d) Sinhalese from the North and East
Given the situation of generalized violence in the North and East, Sinhalese civilians in these areas are equally vulnerable to aerial bombing, shelling and other military activity, and with the possibility of being harmed by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) or claymore mines. There are also targeted threats aimed at members of the Sinhalese communities living in border villages - next to LTTE-controlled areas, or in areas where they are the minority in more ethnically diverse areas, especially in the East. On 15 June 2006, a claymore mine attack which targeted a bus in the border village of Kebettigollawa in Anuradhapura District killed 68 - mainly Sinhalese - civilians, including 14 children. The attack occurred in an area with an ethnic Sinhalese majority bordering LTTE-controlled territory. The SLMM and the Government held the LTTE responsible.
In another apparently targeted attack, six Sinhalese farmers were shot to death while working in their paddy fields in Trincomalee District on 23 April 2006. The LTTE was blamed for the massacre of 13 Sinhalese construction workers building an irrigation canal in Welikanda, Polonoruwa District on 29 May 2006.
Sinhalese fleeing generalized violence generally enjoy protection in governmentcontrolled areas. Nonetheless, those targeted by the LTTE will find it difficult to obtain adequate protection from the Government, since the LTTE has shown that it can track down and kill its opponents in various areas in the country.
c. Assessing International Protection Needs
Given the prevailing situation of widespread hostilities, insecurity and human rights violations in the North and East of Sri Lanka, it is UNHCR's view that the situation there can be characterized as one of generalized violence and events seriously disturbing public order. All three ethnic groups, Sinhalese, Muslims and Tamils are affected by the situation of generalized violence and armed conflict. The analysis has shown that many, in particular those with the profiles set out above, may be specifically targeted by state and non-state agents. In Colombo, Tamils have been targeted while those with certain profiles are liable to suffer serious human rights transgressions. Therefore, UNHCR recommends that all asylum claims of individuals from Sri Lanka be examined carefully under fair and efficient refugee status determination procedures.
More particularly, UNHCR recommends as follows:
(a) Tamils from the North or East
(b) Tamils from Colombo
Where a Tamil from Colombo is the subject of targeted violation of human rights by the LTTE, the authorities or paramilitary groups, no internal flight alternative is available anywhere in the country. As mentioned earlier, the LTTE has a proven capacity to track down its targets anywhere, and there is a lack of assured protection by the authorities. In case of State or paramilitary persecution, alternative relocation to the predominantly Tamil areas in the North and East (including those under LTTE control) is not a viable option for any Tamil from Colombo given the difficulties and risks entailed in travelling to the North or East, in light of the closure of the A9 highway to civilian traffic, the need to pass through the numerous checkpoints, the situation of generalized violence and conflict, as well as other human rights abuses such as forced recruitment in LTTE controlled areas. Furthermore, any travel to the North or East is likely to raise the suspicions of the authorities that the individual is a member of LTTE, thereby placing them at risk of arrest, detention, abduction and killing.
Where the Muslim individual is targeted by the State, LTTE or other non-state agents, there is no internal flight alternative, in light of the reach of the agents of persecution and the inability of the Government to provide assured protection in government controlled areas.
In relation to those who flee generalized violence from the North or East, the availability of an internal flight alternative should be assessed in light of UNHCR's Guidelines as regards the relevance and reasonableness of the area of relocation, bearing in mind that there are possibilities of relocating to government controlled areas. However, consideration should also be given to the general intolerance of the authorities toward displacement of large numbers of Muslims , as in such situations, the authorities are liable to take action to return them prematurely to potentially unsafe areas without respecting the wishes of the individuals concerned. Therefore, should the individual relocate to areas where there are large numbers of internally displaced Muslims, it would not constitute an internal flight alternative for the individual concerned.
In relation to individuals who are targets of persecution from state or non-state agents, there is no internal flight alternative due to the reach of the LTTE (even in non-LTTE controlled areas), other non-state agents of persecution, and the inability of the authorities to provide assured protection.
In relation to those who flee generalized violence, the availability of an internal flight alternative should be assessed in light of UNHCR's Guidelines as regards the relevance and the reasonableness of the area of relocation while taking into consideration the possibility of alternative relocation to government-controlled areas.
(e) Internally Displaced Persons
Since January 2006, unrest, inter-ethnic communal incidents and military action have led to displacement in all communities in the North and East of the country. As of mid-November, over 200,000 persons had been internally displaced in government-controlled and LTTE-controlled areas. Staying in public buildings and with host communities, the displaced are located in areas where safe and regular access by humanitarian agencies not always guaranteed. The persistent hostilities are worsening the humanitarian situation. Although the Government and various national and international actors have mounted a relief effort to deliver assistance to the civilian population, the situation remains critical as delivery of aid is often hampered due to insecurity and impeded access to these displaced persons.
The fact that internally displaced persons are receiving international assistance in certain areas in Sri Lanka should not give rise to the conclusion that return to such areas is safe or reasonable.
(f) States not Parties to the 1951 Convention
Where states are not parties to the 1951 Convention and do not have refugee status determination systems, individuals originating from Sri Lanka and who are in need of international protection, as indicated above, either because of a wellfounded fear of persecution in the meaning of Article I(A)2 of the 1951 Convention, or because of a situation of generalized violence with no internal flight alternative, should be protected against forcible return, and be permitted lawful stay as well as possibilities to exercise their basic rights under relevant national laws until the situation in Sri Lanka improves substantially.
(g) Asylum-Seekers previously found not to be in Need of International Protection
For those asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka whose claims were previously examined and were found not to be in need of international protection, UNHCR recommends a review of their claims in light of the new circumstances as described in this position.
This position will be updated as substantial changes to the situation take place in Sri Lanka.
UNHCR December 2006