Colombo Telegraph

Deliver Promises First, And Then Welcome Refugees Back!

By Lionel Bopage

Dr Lionel Bopage

Regarding Sri Lankan Prime Minister’s recent statement on refugees: Deliver promises first, and then welcome refugees back!

The current Prime Minister of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremsinghe’s comments on refugees reported in the news media fly in the face of facts.

Despite the relaxation of the social and political environment under the new regime led by President Maithripala Sirisena and the Prime Minister, the repressive machinery and logistical approach of the governance system towards its political critics and opponents have not changed. This is evident from the incidents that have taken place in Sri Lanka recently, also giving the impression that the current regime may have started resorting to old repressive strategies and tactics. For example:

– killing of two university students in Jaffna;

– continuing police torture island wide;

– a laxed approach to investigations of the criminal activities of the previous regime;

– continued repression of trade union and student protests;

– the abduction of the leader of the telecommunication trade union; and

– the creeping closure of the democratic space gained after the elections.

There have also been evidence of at least several cases where the returning asylum seekers being arrested and subjected to ill treatment. Voices critical of the current regime are again being reinterpreted as supporting a separatist agenda. The reconciliation agenda of the current Sri Lankan regime and its efforts toward that end are yet to be demonstrated in practice, despite the rhetoric of its representatives at overseas forums like the United Nations.

By his statement, Sri Lanka Prime Minister has concurred with the Australian regime’s repression of the asylum seekers, and their off-shore detention, such as in Nauru and Manus. This while Australia’ refugee policy is being subject to intense and severe criticism by the United Nations.

Till the impunity given to perpetrators of humans rights abuses is rescinded, the organs of the state are reformed, the mindset of many working for the state in seeing dissent as unpatriotic is changed and when the rule of law becomes paramount, then and only then can the Prime Minister welcome refugees safely back to the country. Otherwise the current government will also be seen in the cold light of history like other previous governments (of 1970, 1977 and 1994 amongst others), who promised much in terms of good governance and reconciliation but in the end made democratic spaces in Sri Lanka even narrower.

Whilst supportive of the current government’s reform and reconciliation agenda, I am at the same time sceptical, given the past history of the United National Party and other members of the coalition which include the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, as reflected in the government’s inability and or hesitance to deliver the reforms promised during the Presidential and Parliamentary elections, in any concrete manner.

The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka and the government need to deliver their promises first, then welcome back refugees.

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