New Zealand’s decision to accept Tamil asylum seekers
Posted on April 7th, 2010

Roshan Mendis Wellington  New Zealand

New Zealand’s decision to accept several Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers may be well intentioned but is seriously misguided. The asylum seekers in question, currently in Indonesia, have blackmailed authorities into bypassing normal procedures for processing such claims. In doing so, they have pushed aside more deserving claimants with lesser means of influencing Western public opinion. In short, they are queue jumpers.

Their impeccable English (epitomised by their smooth talking self-appointed spokesman, Alex, now AWOL), rotund physique and media savviness suggests they did not spend the last few months struggling for survival in the Northern jungles of Sri Lanka as many have claimed. And there are good grounds to suspect that some may have been former high level cadres of the Tamil Tigers, the now defeated terrorist group notorious for recruiting child soldiers and conducting suicide bombings. This outfit certainly had recourse to the huge sums – allegedly $20,000 per head – paid to people smugglers for the journey, an amount well beyond the means of all but the wealthiest inhabitants in the island.

While it is true that these persons may not pose a security threat to this country, New Zealand should not open its arms to people who have been complicit in, or are intent on perpetuating, a violent secessionist struggle in their country of origin. In recent months, US authorities have successfully prosecuted several Tamil migrants for attempting to procure weapons and funds for the Tigers. Similar trials are underway in a host of other countries. What sort of message are we sending to Tamil Tiger operatives currently lying low in the wake of their defeat? Come to New Zealand and we will turn a blind eye to your activities, as long as there is no threat to us? And while there may be no security risk to New Zealand, pro-Tiger elements are well known to have intimidated and extorted law abiding and hard working Tamil migrants in Canada and the United Kingdom.

In Sri Lanka, a 30 year old war is over, resettlement is proceeding apace and island-wide parliamentary elections are taking place this week. The oft repeated claim that Tamils are systematically persecuted is nonsense and a myth propagated by Tamil extremists to dupe sympathetic Western immigration authorities. In one year alone in Canada, 8,600 Sri Lankan Tamils with refugee claims pending applied to the Sri Lankan High Commission in Ottawa for travel documents so they could go back to Sri Lanka for visits, hardly indicative of a well founded fear of persecution by the State.

Unlike many other migrant communities in the West, the global Tamil Diaspora is well organised, well resourced and adept at manipulating public opinion. South India, just 26 miles away from Sri Lanka and with 50 million Tamils that share language, cultural and religious ties with Tamils in Sri Lanka should be the obvious destination for genuine refugees fleeing Sri Lanka, not Australia or New Zealand, more than 6000 miles away. As Sri Lanka slowly rebuilds after decades of war, the window of opportunity for claiming asylum is vanishing. It is hardly surprising that we are seeing the current wave of boatpeople. Ultimately, it is pull factors in this part of the world rather than push factors at home that are acting as the main lure for Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers. Genuine asylum seekers generally don’t select their final destination.

Of course New Zealand should honour its humanitarian commitments by accepting genuine refugees. But in doing so, it is important to ensure that the most vulnerable and needy refugees – those lacking knowledge of English, those without established advocacy groups and those without enough money to pay people smugglers – are not overlooked by a vociferous and well organised lot of opportunists preying on the goodwill of all New Zealanders.

Roshan Mendis
New Zealand

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