By Peter Arndt
IN their efforts to stem the flow of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka, both the former Labor Government and the new Coalition Government have adopted a practice of “enhanced screening” to remove Sri Lankan asylum seekers from the refugee processing pathway as quickly as possible and return them to their homeland without any substantial examination of their claims for protection.
Irrespective of the strength of their claims for protection, there is mounting and frightening evidence that Sri Lankans who either return home voluntarily or are deported are at high risk of being detained and tortured by the police or the military.
Freedom from Torture, a UK organisation, has produced several reports since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war in May 2009 which detail the horrifying results of forensic medical examinations of more than 100 Sri Lankans who were detained and tortured by Sri Lankan authorities on their return home.
In all cases, the torture survivors are detained for actual or perceived association with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers.
The survivor may have been forcibly recruited by the LTTE, have a family member associated with them in some way, or provided a service to the LTTE or one of its members or may have been involved in demonstrations against the Sri Lankan Government while overseas.
The torture, which accompanied their interrogation, included beatings with blunt objects, burns with cigarettes or hot metal objects, suspension, sexual assault or rape, or partial asphyxiation and suffocation with water or plastic bags containing petrol.
Possible fabrication of evidence is assessed during these forensic examinations before a conclusion of torture is reached.
Apart from the physical scars of this torture, the examinations also understandably identify significant psychological damage in survivors.
Freedom from Torture suggests that the cases they have uncovered represent the tip of the iceberg.
Those of us who are working with Sri Lankan asylum seekers in Australia are receiving reports from the families of deported asylum seekers, human rights workers, priests and Church workers that the same is happening to Sri Lankans who have been deported from Australia.
When I was in Sri Lanka recently, I met with more than a dozen parents and wives of men who are in detention on suspicion that they have some association with the LTTE and who claim they have been tortured during their detention.
It is a matter of immense distress and anxiety for them and should be a matter of deep concern for anyone with a shred of humanity.
The British Government halted deportations of Sri Lankan asylum seekers on the strength of a raft of reports of torture compiled by organisations like Freedom from Torture.
It is difficult to imagine that successive Australian Governments have not been aware of these reports.
How can Australia justify returning people to the high possibility of brutal violence?
How can successive Australian Governments continue to claim that things are better in Sri Lanka when there is still so much evidence of State-sanctioned torture, violence and repression?
Peter Arndt is the executive officer of the Brisbane Catholic Justice and Peace Commission.