Press Release – NZ Society for Peace In Sri Lanka
Terrorist violence: The Sri Lankan experience, Norway and New Zealand At a recent session in the New Zealand Parliament, the Green MP Keith Locke vehemently opposed the Prime Minister John Key‘s rejection of the appeals of Tamil boat people, to …Terrorist violence: The Sri Lankan experience, Norway and New Zealand
At a recent session in the New Zealand Parliament, the Green MP Keith Locke vehemently opposed the Prime Minister John Key‘s rejection of the appeals of Tamil boat people, to come to New Zealand. Keith’s point was that it was against the New Zealand character to be so heartless to people who have probably experienced great tragedy in their lives and are fleeing ongoing persecution.
We agree with MP Keith Locke that New Zealanders are kind hearted and compassionate people, who are willing to support others. However, the question here is whether such qualities of New Zealanders are deliberately abused by some interested parties.
Prime Minister John Key reported to have said that these asylum seekers were being carried on boats run by criminals who do not care about the people but only about the money. That statement highlights an important aspect of this issue and that is why we agree with the Prime Minister John Key’s hard line stand to reject 87 Sri Lankan boat people.
The purpose of this News Release is to examine the current situation in Sri Lanka, provide some facts about the “refugee industry in the region” and appeal the New Zealand people to be extremely vigilant in providing safe haven for the asylum seekers.
In Sri Lanka, hundreds of agents operate with various kinds of offers to arrange employment, education and refugee status in foreign countries. Some represent genuine agencies while many are either bogus or semi bogus entities. Some are connected to the people smuggling groups around the world. They offer “attractive packages” to carry their clients to a western country and to obtain some kind of a visa for them. Refugee Permit has become very popular as any body can apply. Promised destinations are UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and some European countries. Out of these countries, Canada, Australia and New Zealand are considered as soft touches. Australia became less attractive some time ago due to Howard Government’s Pacific Solution policy, but it is becoming a popular destination again.
Refugees and terrorist violence in Sri Lanka
The war in Sri Lanka commenced around July 1983 and ended in May 2009. Within this period the Sri Lankan community saw the Tamil Tigers (LTTE) massacre tens of thousands of innocent un-armed civilians – men, women, children, pregnant mothers and infants from Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil communities. As in any other country, successive Sri Lankan governments deployed it’s Security Forces to curb the violence.
During this period, more than 140,000 people reported to have fled Sri Lanka and have obtained refugee status in various countries, mainly in the western world, citing fears of being persecuted in Sri Lanka. Genuine refugees who wanted to flee the violence as well as the terrorist elements who wanted to operate from safe places have fled Sri Lanka and obtained refugee status. The situation helped many economic migrants to “jump the queue” and receive a visa. The violent conditions that prevailed in Sri Lanka during that period generally helped asylum applications to be successful.
This situation opened up opportunities to various illegal groups to start businesses to “organize refugee status” for those who desired to leave the country. These clandestine agents generally convince the potential asylum seekers about their capabilities of obtaining refugee status for them even with the help of some dubious tactics. That is where the New Zealand environment of lax enforcement of asylum regulations and the benevolent qualities of New Zealanders have been used or rather abused by them. The statements of some political leaders of New Zealand, which supported the asylum seekers, are heavily publicized in Sri Lanka to encourage more people to come out. Convinced of a comfortable life in a western country, potential asylum seekers often resort to sell all their properties and other belongings to pay the human smugglers. They know very well that they would be penniless, if they have to return to the country. But, people take this enormous risk due to sheer ignorance. The first part of the adventure is relatively simple and it is to come out of Sri Lanka and spend few months in a transit country. Then the desperation begins. After spending few months in an unknown country without sufficient money, it is not surprising that they even agree to a highly dangerous sea journey to New Zealand. It is not due to any fear of persecution as portrayed by some New Zealand politicians, it is due to the desperation and utter hopelessness having to spend their lifetime earnings and wealth without any result. These people have become victims of human smugglers and criminals as correctly pointed out by the Prime Minister John Key.
Sadly, as far as the situation in Sri Lanka is concerned, it has become a lucrative business for certain interested groups. Some of the so called “humanitarian organizations”, people smugglers and arms suppliers have invested large sums and reaped huge profits at the expense of innocent victims in Sri Lanka. LTTE, the main sponsor of human smugglers, rained terror on the Sri Lankan people, by resorting to suicide bombing, summary executions, ethnic cleansing, recruitment of child soldiers, drug smuggling, piracy, international money laundering etc. The LTTE resorted to these brutal tactics to perpetuate violence for years and years. Vast amounts of money that started flowing into their coffers by their illegal businesses have been used to coerce the influential people including some politicians around the world to support “their cause”. Violence, asylum and human smuggling combined to be a well organized and inter connected cycle that benefitted all parties involved.
For the refugee business to be flourished, unfortunately, the violence had to be continued in Sri Lanka. Suicide bombings, land mines, mass killings with high explosives etc. were used by LTTE to kill thousands of innocent civilians. The successive governments had to use force to curb such violence. Thousands died at the hands of terrorist attacks by LTTE and at the same time thousands claimed refugee status in western countries citing violence and fear of persecution. Sri Lanka witnessed this cycle for 30 years.
Change of the situation
After a relentless and determined operation against the military might of the LTTE, the Sri Lankan Government forces finally annihilated them in May 2009. That was the culmination of the hope of overwhelming majority of Sri Lankans who desperately yearned for peace. Sri Lankans were fed up with the regular news of executions, bomb blasts and mass killings of innocents by the LTTE. The support of the world powers to curb the violence limited only to statements. Of course USA, Canada, EU Countries declared the LTTE as a terrorist organization, but did not go further than that. Even those declarations were merely to protect from spilling the seeds of terrorism into their own countries.
Post war Developments
With the annihilation of LTTE, the real peace dawned to Sri Lanka. Not a single terrorist attack has been reported since May 2009. After nearly 30 years, the people of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their ethnicity, have started enjoying the real sense of security. They highly valued the peace achieved by them against all odds.
The Sri Lankan society is slowly but surely raising the head now. When compared to neighbouring India, Pakistan and Afghanistan etc, Sri Lanka is relatively free from terrorism. Its people can now proudly claim that they have eliminated the terrorism from their soil. It is interesting to note that Sri Lanka is the only democracy to have defeated a terrorist organization in recent memory.
Rehabilitation and Reconciliation Programme in Sri Lanka
It is well known that over 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes at the end of the war. Majority of them had been forced by the LTTE to move along with them and kept as human shields when they retreated against the advancing Sri Lankan Forces.
Today, after two years, almost 95% of those people have been resettled. Only about 9,000 are still in the IDP camps and they will also be sent to their villages once the demining operations are completed. The massive task of de-mining over 3900 of 4600 square kilometers of land, where the LTTE had laid almost two million landmines, has been achieved to date and UNHCR safety certifications have been issued for the people to move in.
About 11500 LTTE cadres that surrendered after the war had been provided with opportunities while in custody to further their education or vocational training that would give them new skills without having to wield AK47 guns again. Already, about 7500 of these cadres have been rehabilitated and allowed to rejoin their families. Hundreds of LTTE cadres have been even given the opportunity even to get married while in custody and most of them have achieved their freedom now. Several cadres have sat for the government examinations and got selected for higher education in Universities.
People in the Northern and Eastern provinces had the opportunity to participate in several elections held after the end of the war. Eastern Province elected a former LTTE leader as their Chief Minister. He is supporting the Sri Lankan Government now. Northern Province had their local Government elections on 23 July 2011 and have elected their representatives with out any incidents. Majority of the local government institutions in the Northern Province were won by Tamil National Alliance (TNA) who supported LTTE earlier. TNA achieved similar results during the Parliamentary elections held in 2010 also, indicating the democratic process is gradually getting established in this war torn provinces of Sri Lanka. They have already entered into a negotiation process with the government to find a lasting solution to the national problem.
Sri Lanka’s economy is booming after the war. In June 2011, some of the biggest American multi-nationals including Boeing, Coca Cola, AECOM and Textron have written to the US government explaining their intention to form a Coalition for US- Sri Lanka business to promote commercial activities. They have highlighted the highly-literate citizens, second fastest growing economy in Asia, doubling of per capita income during last four years, stock market which became Asia’s top performer in 2009, fast reducing unemployment rate and the maintenance of record low inflation rates as some of the reasons for the active engagement of US businesses in the Sri Lankan economy. They believe that such actions will generate substantial benefits to both countries.
We hope that above details would provide a clearer picture about the current situation in Sri Lanka and invite all New Zealanders to see whether there is any justification for the arguments of the people like Keith Locke who says that the boat people are fleeing for on going persecution. If the Sri Lankan Government is not interested in prosecuting ex combatants of LTTE who were in the custody for nearly 2 years, could there be any reason to prosecute these boat people, including women and children.
The real situation in Sri Lanka is that the refugees who stayed in India and some other countries have started to return to Sri Lanka. UNHCR has their representatives at the arriving ports and help them to return to their homes and provide them with monetary assistance to start a new life. Many thousands have already used these facilities to return. President of Sri Lanka has appealed all those who have left Sri Lanka to return and join the development efforts of the Northern and Eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.
The need of the hour is not to accuse the Sri Lankan Government for various shortcomings but to assist the development efforts as shown by the American multi-national giants. By assisting the dairy farms and the milk industry in the Northern and Eastern provinces, New Zealand can positively contribute to the development of such areas and at the same time arrest the trend of economic migrations also.
We earnestly appeal the New Zealand people and its political leaders to exercise utmost caution when granting asylum to people who sympathize with terrorist movements as it is one of the prime sources for the undesirables to enter a country.
Once entered, these elements may not immediately resort to violence themselves, but they can influence others. Norway, who tolerated the terrorist LTTE and their sympathizers for decades and who willingly provided asylum for thousands, was attacked by terrorists on 23 July 2011. During the peak of the war, when the transportation of certain fertilizers was restricted within the war torn areas, Norway accused the Sri Lankan government for rights violation. It appears that the law enforcement agencies in Norway now suspect that fertilizer could have been used in manufacturing the bombs in Norway.
On 26 July 2011, CBC – Canada reported that a Tamil refugee claimant who arrived off Canada’s West Coast aboard the MV Sun Sea has been ordered for deportation over allegations that he committed a war crime in his home country of Sri Lanka.
Unless urgent steps are taken to review the asylum regulations which have been designed for the refugees during and after the second world war, terrorism could reach the doorsteps of New Zealand very soon.
New Zealand Society for Peace, Unity and Human Rights in Sri Lanka
United Sri Lanka Association ( Auckland Branch)