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Compassion trumped by expediency in asylum-seeker response

July 22, 2009

The Australian – Compassion trumped by expediency in asylum-seeker response

TWO weeks ago, on his way to Europe, Kevin Rudd dropped into Malaysia with Foreign Minister Stephen Smith in tow, a rare double act in Australian diplomacy.


Apart from Rudd’s phone call to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Australia sent the deputy chief of the navy, Rear Admiral Davyd Thomas, to the country last month to discuss, among other things, the navy’s role in Australian border protection. The Defence Department confirmed the visit took place and that those he had met included the heads of the Sri Lankan navy and its coastguard, but otherwise was uncommunicative.

“Defence does not disclose the specifics of bilateral defence discussions with foreign governments,” was the response to Inquirer’s questions. That’s a pity: it would be interesting to know what sort of assurances the rear admiral received about the treatment of Tamils the government has just defeated in a prolonged civil war.

Did the Sri Lankan government promise there would be no repeat of what the US State Department said in its 2008 human rights report had occurred: “Children and adults were killed as a result of Sri Lankan navy attacks on boats with refugees in the Palk Strait between the country and India.”

According to aid agency sources quoted by Britain’s The Times last week, about 300,000 are in camps and are dying at the rate of 1400 a week. “I am particularly fearful of what is going on in the camps, especially at the hands of the government militias, who seem to have a free rein,” Refugee Council of Australia president John Gibson says. “God knows how many people have been taken away and killed or tortured.”

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