27 May, 2022


New Report Finds Australia’s Stop The Boats Policy Addled With Human Rights Risks

A new report has found that Australia’s cooperation with Sri Lanka to prevent would-be-refugees from seeking protection is riddled with human rights risks and should be stopped immediately.

Emily Howie

Emily Howie

The report, Can’t flee, can’t stay: Australia’s interception and return of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, which is based on interviews with government officials, information obtained through freedom of information requests and statements from the public record, reveals a deeply flawed suite of policy measures and practices, the Human Rights Law Centre said on its website.

The Centre’s Director of Advocacy and Research and the report’s author, Emily Howie, said Australia’s efforts at ‘stopping boats’ are jeopardising the ability of Sri Lankans at risk of persecution to gain access to safety and asylum.

Howie said that based on government data, 50 to 90% of the people who are intercepted by Sri Lankan authorities are likely to be asylum seekers.

“The entire approach is flawed because it fails to recognise that many Sri Lankans are in genuine and urgent need of protection. Instead of providing protection, Australia blocks their pathway to safety and puts Sri Lankan asylum seekers at risk of torture and mistreatment in the hands of Sri Lankan military and police,” said Howie.

The report recommends that Australia conduct due diligence on Australian border protection partners to make sure that Australia is not training and working directly with individuals or units in the Sri Lankan military or police against whom there are credible allegations of serious human rights abuses, war crimes or crimes against humanity.

“Instead of pursuing a one-eyed obsession with ‘stopping boats’, Australia should work to improve the human rights situation on the ground in Sri Lanka and address the root causes of why people leave,” said Howie.

The report recommends that Australia stop aiding and assisting systems of interception and return as the systems put people at risk of harm.

“Despite evidence that the majority of Sri Lankans arriving by boat are genuine refugees, Australia bases its treatment of Sri Lankans on the politically expedient assumption that they’re economic migrants,” said Ms Howie

The report is particularly critical of Australia’s ‘enhanced screening process’ that is applied to Sri Lankans. Enhanced screening is a truncated assessment process in which detainees have no access to a lawyer and no independent review of the decision is available.

Australia claims that no returnees have been harmed upon return to Sri Lanka. However, HRLC has obtained documents through freedom of information that show one instance where Australia received a complaint that a returnee had been “severely tortured.” In that case the Australian Federal Police officer based in Colombo, despite being in the police building where the complainant was being held, declined an invitation to meet with the complainant to assess his well-being.

“This kind of monitoring is woefully inadequate considering the gravity of the complaints made. How can we accept assertions that nobody has been harmed on return when an official fails to take the most basic step to look into allegations of the most serious abuse,” said Howie.

In light of the findings, Howie said Australia must properly monitor the safety of the people that Australia forcibly returns by establishing a secure and confidential process within the Australian High Commission in Colombo.

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Latest comments

  • 2

    lobbying against Sri lanka uncover of human rites. at least 90% of those who has migrated to Autrlia and another countries has taken the opportunity of the war in the past as a launching platform for thier case of economical migrant. the tamil population had the upper hand in that regard since the LTTE was a tamil group. there are many ways that western countries been fooled by these elements and grasp the opportunity to settle in another country.

  • 7

    Emily Howie

    You better check with NPC chief minister Wigneswaran before writing your reports. Obviously he should know the ground situation better than anyone. He said recently that life is so good in Jaffna with money pouring in from the diaspora that people don’t want to work. He said people are only interested in having fun all the time and young people are not keen to study but are spending their time riding motorcycles, drinking and on the internet and facebook. He is right. This is corroborated by people who visit Jaffna. This is in sharp contrast to the picture you are painting.

    Just because there are asylum seekers, you can’t say there is persecution. Most of them are economic refugees and the host countries also benefit because they are a source of cheap labour for menial jobs shunned by the locals. As a result a whole refugee industry has grown providing business for lawyers, paralegals, interpreters, social workers, settlement officers and human rights workers. Your government can solve its refugee problem by stopping its discrimination against these coloured people from third world countries and allowing them to migrate to your country like you allow affluent people from western societies.

    Under the current “refugee” policies it is hypocritical for countries like Australia to claim they are acting on humanitarian principles while condemning the countries of origin of these “refugees.”

    • 4

      How can you rely on the information that comes from a Chief Minister with a few months of experiences on local knowledge/realities? I don’t agree with your statement on ‘Obviously he should know the ground situation better than anyone. He said recently that life is so good in Jaffna….’ If he said such a statement he is a liar. Local knowledge is always partial and thus embedded in power relations (Haraway, 1998).
      Emily is currently an independent researcher (not only a practicing lawyer) and spent a quite a lot of time in the North and East before making statements on ground realities.

  • 3

    NGOs live lavishly on slush funds provided by neocon governments. Human Right lawyers are worse than those NGO parasites. They make money out of hopeless situation of mostly egoistic and sometimes misguided people. Now that Australian government have closed the loopholes, these lawyer buggers must be feeling the pinch.

    • 2

      “NGOs live lavishly on slush funds provided by neocon governments. “

      NGO’s are paid the bare minimum for that particular job while if they worked for the private or public sector they would enjoy atleast 3 times more. They are used to a way of life just like you and it has to be maintained for efficiency.
      Don’t comment from your slave background like the west indies.

      How have so many Sihala only servants men and women employed in Spain and Italy?? It would call for a nannygate and SL would turn into cannibals.

      Check with your ambassador kaka slush funds.

      The same goes to Australia now as the PIGS are in bad shape and Australian economy is still at its best.

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