News / Asia

Australia Faces Influx of Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers

Sri Lankans asylum seekers stay on their traditional boat near Dili's port, July 31, 2002.
Sri Lankans asylum seekers stay on their traditional boat near Dili's port, July 31, 2002.
Phil Mercer
Refugee specialists in Sri Lanka say Australia can expect more refugee boats to reach its coastline following the arrival this week of asylum seekers at a busy port north of Perth.  Australia’s conservative opposition is accusing the Labor government of losing control of the nation’s borders.  In Melbourne, more than 25 asylum seekers are continuing a hunger strike that began on Monday.

The government in Canberra has ordered a review into how a boat carrying 66 suspected asylum seekers from Sri Lanka managed to make it to the Australian mainland without being detected.

It is only the second asylum vessel to reach the mainland in the last five years.

Immigration officials say it is an unusual case.  An investigation is underway that will examine whether Australian authorities need to change the way they patrol the Indian Ocean that surrounds the country’s northwestern coastline.

Opposition lawmakers say the arrival of the boat is a “disaster” for the nation’s border protection strategy.  They insist Australia’s vast northwest shoreline is poorly protected and expect more asylum boats to try to reach the mainland.

That is a view shared by Jehan Perera from the Sri Lankan National Peace Council.

Perera said the arrival of the boat in the Western Australian port of Geraldton will encourage other asylum seekers to attempt the long sea voyage.

“It would serve as an incentive.  I mean the fact that some got through, it would send a message to others who are also thinking of leaving Sri Lanka that way to try their luck," he said.

Allegations of political persecution drive many Tamil asylum seekers to try to reach Australia.

Joint efforts by the Australian and Sri Lankan governments have reduced the number of asylum seeker boats attempting to cross the Indian Ocean.

In the past couple of years, a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving in Australia’s northern waters has prompted the government to reopen offshore processing camps in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In Melbourne, refugees at the Broadmeadows Detention Facility are entering a fourth day of a hunger strike.  Most are Tamils, who are facing indefinite detention after Australia’s intelligence agencies classified them a threat to national security.

But Trevor Grant, from the Tamil Refugee Council, believes the detainees have been unfairly labeled as extremists.

“Some of them have been detained as long as four years.  They are under indefinite detention," Grant remarked.  "The high court said last year that is illegal.  Everybody agrees that it is an impossible situation, but for some reason the minister for immigration, who has the power to release them, refuses to do so.  We believe it is because he fears the terrorism bogey, which is quite ridiculous, and to use people’s lives like this for political ends is disgraceful, as far as we are concerned.”     

Australia’s Immigration Department says the refugees have access to food, water and medical treatment at all times.

As the hunger strikers promise to continue their protest, Immigration Minister Brendan O'Connor says he will not bow to pressure.

You May Like

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

There is growing uncertainty over whether West’s response to ISIS is adequate More

China Crackdown on Dual Citizens Causes Concern

New policy encourages reporting people who obtain citizenship in another country, but retain Chinese citizenship; move spurs sharp debate More

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

Losing ground to Islamic State fighters, Syria's government says it is ready to cooperate with international community More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?i
X
Henry Ridgwell
August 29, 2014 12:26 AM
U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Pachyderms Play Polo to Raise Money for Elephants

Polo, the ancient team competition typically played on horseback, is known as the “sport of kings.” However, the royal version for one annual event in Thailand swaps the horse for the kingdom’s national symbol - the elephant. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Samut Prakan reports that the King’s Cup Elephant Polo tournament is all for a good cause.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
Video

Video America's Most Popular Artworks Displayed in Public Places

Public places in cities across America were turned into open-air art galleries in August. Pictures of the nation’s most popular artworks were displayed on billboards, bus shelters, subway platforms and more. The idea behind “Art Everywhere,” a collaborative campaign by five major museums is to allow more people to enjoy art and learn about the country’s culture and history. Faiza Elmasry has more.
Video

Video Chinese Doctors Use 3-D Spinal Implant

A Chinese boy suffering from a debilitating bone disease has become the first patient with a part of his spine created in a three-dimensional printer. Doctors say he will soon regain normal mobility. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Uneasy Calm Settles Over Israel, Gaza Strip

Israel and the Gaza Strip have been calm since a cease-fire set in Tuesday evening, ending seven weeks of hostilities. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared victory. Israelis were more wart. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jerusalem.
Video

Video India’s Leprosy Battle Stymied by Continuing Stigma

Medical advancements in the treatment of leprosy have greatly diminished its impact around the world, largely eliminating the disease from most countries. India made great strides in combating leprosy, but still accounts for a majority of the world’s new cases each year, and the number of newly infected Indians is rising - more than 130,000 recorded last year. Doctors there say the problem has more to do with society than science. Shaikh Azizur Rahman reports from Kolkata.
Video

Video Scientists Unlock Mystery of Bird Flocks

How can flocks of birds, schools of fish or herds of antelope suddenly change direction -- all the individuals adjusting their movement in concert, at seemingly the same time? British researchers now have some insights into this behavior, which has puzzled scientists for a long time. VOA's George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid