David Feith writes in the Melbourne Age:
I was disturbed to read recently that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is considering changing its international protection guidelines for Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers. The Australian government, predictably, was quick to state that any change to the UNHCR guidelines would allow Australia to send Tamil and Afghan asylum seekers back to their home countries.
The motivation of the Australian government is quite transparent – in an election year, the issue of asylum seekers is a potential political minefield for the government (unlike the asylum seekers, who if returned to their home countries could face literal minefields). This stems from the government trying to compete with the opposition on who could be tougher with border protection, rather than educating the Australian public as to the “push factors” behind desperate Tamils risking their lives to escape brutal suppression and atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan government.
The timing of the statements from UNHCR and the Australian government is also quite surprising, given that only three days earlier Sri Lanka’s parliament voted to extend the state of emergency across the island until after legislative elections. This was seen as a move to continue the government’s brutal crackdown on any opposition or criticism.