Tuesday December 28 2004 07:00am WST
For Immediate Release
"In an unbelievable and cruel collision of government manipulation and geologic reality, many Sri Lankans (figures could well be in the hundreds) living in the Australian community on BVE's or Bridging Visas, are believed to have received their final notice to remove themselves from the Australian continent within 28 days, back to their homes in Sri Lanka," according to reports received by refugee advocacy group Project SafeCom.
The asylum seekers, who arrived in Australia before the "excision legislation" and well before the enactment of the TAMPA laws, are not in detention centres, but have awaited their fate for years whilst living in the community. There are about 500 Sri Lankans in the community, the majority of them Tamils, but there are also Sinhalese families. Many of them are families with children born in Australia over the last ten years. Recently a spokesman for the Victorian Tamil Cultural Association, Mr Nagamuthu Ramalingam Wickiramasingham, commented on their situation, and compared their predicament to the situation of the East Timorese refugees in Australia. Successive governments have avoided taking responsibility for their fate up till now.
The Sri Lankans' final claims for humanitarian intervention by the Minister have now failed, and "as we now well know, the Department of Immigration has again acted manipulatively by sending these letters during the Christmas holidays - while lawyers are well out of reach and on leave and less likely to act for their clients prior to the 28 days required to leave the country, or be locked up in immigration detention," Project SafeCom spokesman Jack Smit said today.
"For some or many, the letters may well have arrived on Monday or Tuesday, after the news about the devastating earthquakes and the subsequent tsunamis had become common knowledge in the community."
"Now a tsunami has come in the way of the Minister's determinations, and she could now immediately overturn these "Christmas present" decisions and grant them all humanitarian and permanent visas, just as she could now grant asylum to the fifteen men in the Baxter detention centre. Today is an opportunity for Immigration Minister Vanstone to show, loud and clear to all Australians, that she has a heart and that she can act with compassion."
"The men in the Baxter detention centre centre are also concerned for the wellbeing of their relatives and friends in Sri Lanka. Although highly unusual, the two groups of men, some from Sinhalese and some from Tamil background, have spoken together in the Baxter centre to discuss the tsunami and the devastating loss of life in their home country."
For more information:
Jack H Smit
[phone number posted]
[name of] Sri Lankan detainee (Blue Two Compound)
Baxter Immigration Detention Centre
Port Augusta (08) 8641-8900