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Australia's Tamils Voice Visa Suspension Concerns to Top Officials in Canberra

Representatives of the Australian Tamil community have held talks with senior Australian officials to discuss the recent freezing of asylum requests from Sri Lanka. Canberra has said it will not process applications for three months while it reviews the security situation in Sri Lanka, a move that has angered activists.

Representatives from several Tamil community groups were invited to Canberra for talks with officials from Australia's immigration and foreign affairs departments.

A range of issues was discussed, including Australian aid to Sri Lanka. They also considered how the Tamil diaspora can support reconciliation and lasting peace in their troubled homeland, where decades of civil war have only recently come to an end.

But the main point of discussion was Canberra's decision to freeze for three months the processing of asylum applications from Sri Lanka.

Australia says the move is the result of improved security in Sri Lanka.

But Tamil activist Sara Nathan, who attended the meeting in Canberra, says community representatives made it clear they opposed Australia's decision.

"Almost everyone commented that they were not happy with the visa suspensions because there is lots of inconsistencies," said Nathan. "For instance, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has not changed its guidelines on Sri Lanka. It is still risky in Sri Lanka. There are 88,000 Tamils still held in internment camps."

Australia has also suspended the processing of asylum claims from Afghanistan for six months, again insisting that the situation there was becoming less hazardous.

Australia reopened mainland immigration detention facilities following a surge in boats ferrying asylum seekers, including many Sri Lankans and Afghans.

A purpose-built camp on Christmas Island, a remote Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, is over-capacity.

Conservative opponents of Australia's left-of-center government say what it calls "soft" immigration policies have failed to deter boat people. Government ministers have strongly rejected that point of view.

The vast majority of people seeking asylum in Australia arrive by air, but community groups worry that the debate about illegal immigration will become more uncompromising as an election due later this year draws closer.

About 13,000 refugees are allowed to resettle in Australia each year as part of official international humanitarian schemes.