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There is nothing safe about Sri Lanka

October 15, 2009

New Matilda – Next Time Check Your Facts, Philip

As Rudd takes a hard line on Tamil asylum seekers, Philip Ruddock’s recent claims that all is well in Sri Lanka couldn’t be further from the truth, writes Jake Lynch

“The toilets are only less than five metres from my tent and the smell was strong when the emptying of the toilet pits is not carried out in time, which is always the case. When there is water shortage, which is frequent, concern about how one is going to use the toilet becomes the most serious problem of the day, surpassing the problems of food, health and other major issues”.

So says a former inmate of Menik Farm, the vast internment camp where the Sri Lankan Government is holding upwards of a quarter of a million Tamils against their will. They were herded away from their homes five months ago in the final deadly phase of the country’s civil war, during which, according to unofficial UN estimates, as many as 20,000 people were killed.

Her eyewitness account, reported on Tamilnet, reached the outside world after she secured exit from the camp by what are euphemistically referred to as “other means”: former detainees are known to have bribed the guards with their life savings to get away.

This is what desperation feels — and smells — like. Periodic visits by “dignitaries” were marked by handouts of bread, the eyewitness records, for which the inmates would scrabble pathetically. Rations were so poor that a man went around begging for sugar to sweeten the plain black tea he was feeding his newborn; the mother was so malnourished that her breast milk had prematurely dried up. Staff from the UN High Commission for Refugees were told that Tamils were not to be given vegetables unless they could buy them from Government-approved traders, who were busy leeching off the inmates.

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