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Eloquence dangerous asset for refugee

October 18, 2009

The Sunday Telegraph : Attention or asylum seekers
HEARING the articulate, reasonable, compelling voices of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers last week, my heart sank.

With every well-constructed sentence their spokesman “Alex” delivered, it got worse.

When tears began rolling down the plump cheeks of nine-year-old Brindha, one of the voyagers, things became more uncomfortable – and I’m worried by their threats to hunger-strike or blow up the boat.

I don’t doubt these people have genuine fears about their war-ravaged, discriminatory, violent homeland. Sri Lanka is, for many Tamils, a dreadful place.

But for a refugee, eloquence is a dangerous asset.

This controversy about boat-people, like all these stories, is a puppet-show.

It’s about symbolism far more than the real dynamics of refuge; conveniently ignoring the fact that if we do have a refugee influx, it’s coming through Baggage Claim C, not the Timor Sea. More

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  1. Australians for Tamil Justice permalink*
    October 18, 2009 12:10 pm

    The Sunday Telegraph : Attention or asylum seekers
    By Claire Harvey, 18 October 2009

    HEARING the articulate, reasonable, compelling voices of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers last week, my heart sank.

    With every well-constructed sentence their spokesman “Alex” delivered, it got worse.

    When tears began rolling down the plump cheeks of nine-year-old Brindha, one of the voyagers, things became more uncomfortable – and I’m worried by their threats to hunger-strike or blow up the boat.

    I don’t doubt these people have genuine fears about their war-ravaged, discriminatory, violent homeland. Sri Lanka is, for many Tamils, a dreadful place.

    But for a refugee, eloquence is a dangerous asset.

    This controversy about boat-people, like all these stories, is a puppet-show.

    It’s about symbolism far more than the real dynamics of refuge; conveniently ignoring the fact that if we do have a refugee influx, it’s coming through Baggage Claim C, not the Timor Sea.

    Most overstayers have never been anywhere near Villawood or Christmas Island. They’re plane-people – European backpackers, Asian businesspeople, New Zealand dole bludgers (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

    But Kevin Rudd has decided to make a public show of being tough on asylum-seekers and this particular human cargo has, sadly, played into his hands.

    They are not huddled, disempowered, silent shadows, grateful for any crumb of consideration we throw _ they are bold and stroppy and a bit melodramatic. And some Australians just can’t cope when refugees don’t fit the cliche.

    “Australians don’t like being threatened,” Melbourne radio host Neil Mitchell said to Mr Rudd on Friday.

    “Is this emotional blackmail? Given the threat to blow up the boat and now the hunger strike and other forms of pressure they’re exerting, are these the sort of people you want in Australia?”

    Rudd chose his words carefully. “I believe that it’s right for the Government to have a tough, hard-line but humane approach. The UNHCR processes, I believe, are fair.

    They’ve been around for a long time. These processes, nor the approach of the Australian Government, will be moved by any particular tactics deployed by any particular person,” Mr Rudd said.

    The PM is carefully targeting his message, because he knows many Australians have narrow perceptions about what a refugee can be.

    An articulate, intelligent little girl, sadly, has the potential to bring out our darkest suspicions: how can she speak English so well? Is she educated? Is she wealthy?

    Is she, to use the most loaded phrase of all, an economic refugee: that is, just a greedy person who’d rather live in prosperous, beautiful Australia than some foreign backwater.

    Even if that were true, I’d suggest it’s an entirely reasonable desire – but, in this case, it’s not the point.
    Education and eloquence have nothing to do with the authenticity of one’s plight.

    Think of Jewish doctors fleeing Germany and Cambodian scientists who escaped Pol Pot’s murderous, anti-intellectual regime. They were stroppy, too, but they were certainly refugees.

    I looked up the latest Refugee Review Tribunal case involving a Sri Lankan Tamil. She’s a widowed mother of six, and we can’t publish her name, but here’s her story: In the 1980s, the widow’s niece was murdered by the Tamil Tiger guerrillas for refusing to fight against the government.

    In 2004, she rented a spare room in her Colombo house to two Tamil boys _ boys who, unbeknownst to her, were suspected by police of being Tamil Tigers.

    The boys disappeared in 2005, shortly after the assassination of a senior government minister, and the widow was interrogated by police and beaten with a rifle butt. She spent the next few years living in fear of the police and the Tamil Tigers – she knew that if the boys really were fighters, the Tigers may seek revenge on her for speaking to police.

    She bumped into one of the boys again in 2006 and he demanded she rent him a room again _ a situation that terrified the widow.

    In June, 2006 she came here (on a plane) to visit her Australian-resident daughter and remained, too afraid to go home. Since then, her son-in-law has been arrested, interrogated and beaten by police. Her daughter was raped in police custody. Another relative is missing, possibly murdered.

    She presented evidence of all this to the Tribunal, which also considered evidence from the UN, diplomats, journalists and human-rights organisations that Tamils are routinely killed, beaten,harassed and intimidated bysecurity forces.

    Do you believe it? Does she sound genuine? I think so. According to the cynics, that may make me naive, or gullible.

    But the Tribunal believed her, too, ruling on September 16 the widow deserved Australia’s protection, because for many Tamils, life at home is simply not safe.

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