Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Smell of Appeasement Surrounds Asylum-seeker Deal

THE Australian government came to Sri Lanka this week bearing gifts in the hope of winning co-operation in its bid to reduce asylum-seeker numbers.

One was material: $11 million towards de-mining the former northern conflict zone and resettling about 250,000 civilians still held behind razor wire in internally displaced people (IDP) camps. The other was less tangible: rhetoric that pandered to the Sri Lankan view that most asylum-seekers are Tamil Tigers seeking to reinvigorate the separatist struggle from distant shores.

Both bore the whiff of appeasement.

While the EU is poised to withdraw Sri Lanka's tax exemption status for textile exports, worth $US3.3 billion annually, because of reported human rights abuses there, and the US administration has called for the camps and former conflict zones to be opened to international scrutiny, Australian officials say they prefer a more "constructive" approach.

In a joint news conference late on Monday night to announce a memorandum of understanding on people-smuggling, Foreign Minister Stephen Smith emphasised the importance of apprehending and prosecuting criminal and terror syndicates behind the

Australia's latest financial contribution will provide $6m to clear mines in resettlement areas, $2m for food assistance to people who have been resettled and $3m through the UN for housing reconstruction work. Excerpt from The Australian article by Amanda Hodge

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