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Crikey sets sights on SPUR

October 20, 2009

Crikey : Bolt’s one-sided scepticism on Tamil asylum seekers

Andrew Bolt regurgitates a press release from SPUR Australia, which raises doubts about whether the boat people detained in Indonesian waters are genuine refugees. I hadn’t heard of the group before, so I went for a look at their web site. I recommend that others do the same.

While I don’t want to unfairly condemn the group and hope it genuinely aspires to the goals in its name (peace, unity and human rights), a cursory review of the web site makes clear that they take a particular perspective toward the situation in Sri Lanka. Their previous media releases include statements such as this:

Feral human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch, who are deaf and dumb when it comes to atrocities committed by the Allied Forces on Afghans but vociferous when it comes to IDP conditions in democratic Sri Lanka, have also joined in the fray looking for its own pound of flesh or the pint of blood.

Aside from being wrong about Afghanistan, they seem to be endorsing a view that the international community is unfairly scrutinising the actions of the Sri Lankan government and military during their conflict with the Tamil Tigers (LTTE). According to the statements on their site, SPUR views this unwarranted intrusion and criticism as coming not only from human rights groups and European nations but the (hypocritical) United States of America. The site’s inclusion of links to news stories such as this one serves to reinforce that impression. Their FAQ list seems to deny or minimise any claims of discrimination or disadvantage for Tamils in Sri Lanka and seeks to paint the issue as being purely about the LTTE seeking to carve out a piece of the nation for themselves.

This view is disputed by many. Human Rights Watch has monitored and documented the situation in Sri Lanka, including raising questions about evidence suggesting war crimes by the military along with the ongoing detention of civilians. Jeff Sparrow’s recent article for Crikey (with follow-up commentary by Andrew Bartlett), and New Matilda’s publication of Lasantha Wickrematunge’s self-penned obituary, provide additional grounds for scepticism of those claims.

I find myself wondering – did Andrew Bolt fail to review the general perspective and arguments of the group whose media release he published? If nothing else, I would have thought that the anti-American sentiment and the criticism of military interventions he has supported in Iraq and Afghanistan would give him cause for concern. Or, was he aware of the group’s apparent minimisation of any human rights concerns for Sri Lankan Tamils but happy to publish it because implying that we’re being inundated with fake refugees suits his “strong borders” argument against the Rudd government?

ELSEWHERE: On the topic of asylum seekers, Possum has looked at the push vs pull factors argument and finds that (irrespective of policy changes) our boat arrivals correlate strongly with changes in asylum applications outside Australia.

UPDATE: On today’s PM, the Sri Lankan high commissioner to Australia called them “bogus asylum seekers” – claiming the accents spoken by two of the asylum seekers indicate they have not been living in Sri Lanka, but also asserting that “They are claiming that there is persecution and discrimination in Sri Lanka which are absolutely false, baseless allegations.”

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