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Tuesday, April 16, 2013 - 6.34 GMT
Tamils flee for cash, not from harm - former foreign editor of The Australian


Tamils in the northeast who get on the boats to Australia are not fleeing persecution but leaving for a chance of a better life, Dinoo Kelleghan wrote in The Australian.

"When I interviewed some former Tiger fighters last year who are now living normally following rehabilitation, none of them said they were suffering from persecution even when pressed. Their problems were lack of jobs, lack of education and training to get jobs, and difficulties with others over contested land," he wrote in an article published on April 13.

Asylum-seeking has become a habit, unconnected to reality, and the trawler that sailed into Geraldton this week with 66 Sri Lankans aboard is simply a part of that economic pattern.

The civil war has been over almost four years. There is no foundation on which Sri Lankans – Tamil, Sinhalese, Muslim or Burgher – can claim to have a well-founded fear of persecution. There are a few individuals who have tense relations with government and other political parties but my own experience as a member over seven years on Australia’s Refugee Review Tribunal indicates that embassies here are well aware of them, share information, track them and help them with visas for getaways.

The decades of Tiger control of the area cemented in the poverty while the rest of the country was starting to prosper. The Tigers, who collected millions of dollars for development of “Eelam”, merely squatted on the land and controlled it with a fascist hand, the former foreign editor of The Australian wrote.

Even if, hypothetically, Tamils in Sri Lanka’s north and east suffered persecution they would find a much easier and shorter and cheaper passage to India, just across the narrow Palk Strait. The fact that some of the Tamils coming by boat to Australia originate from camps in India in fact makes persecution claims against Sri Lanka irrelevant.

Sri Lanka’s Tamil population is spread widely throughout the island, not huddled in fearful groups in a few places. Tamils now outnumber Sinhalese in the capital, Colombo. At least six of the 20 billionaires on the Sri Lankan stock exchange are Tamil.

Dinoo Kelleghan is a former foreign editor of The Australian and was a member of the Refugee Review Tribunal from 1997-2004.

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Last modified: April 16, 2013.

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