Human rights and refugee advocates have expressed skepticism over the prime minister of Sri Lanka’s claim that asylum seekers who fled his country in a bid to reach Australia would not be punished if they returned home, citing recent allegations of torture in the South Asian nation.
Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, who is in Canberra on an official visit, urged asylum seekers from his country seeking residence in Australia to “come back”. “All is forgiven,” he said. ”They are welcome to return to Sri Lanka and we won’t prosecute them.
“We will help them. But remember, they broke the law in … attempting to come to Australia.” However not everyone is convinced by Mr Wickremesinghe’s assurances, with advocates citing concern over ongoing human rights abuses. Aran Mylvaganam, of the Tamil Refugee Council, works closely with asylum seekers who have been granted temporary settlement in Melbourne as they wait for their refugee claims to be processed.
“It is definitely not safe for Tamils to go back,” he said. “Just three weeks ago, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture claimed that torture is still being used in Sri Lanka.” One of his clients is a Sri Lankan man who says he worked with the Tamil Tigers – considered a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union – in an unarmed, civilian capacity for 10 years, up until the end of the war in 2009.