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Sri Lankan Asylum Seekers need long term solutions

The treatment of families seeking refuge in Australia has been brought into the spotlight as two boatloads of Sri Lankan asylum seekers were intercepted by the Australian government 300km off Christmas Island.
A number of these asylum seekers have been handed over by the Australian government to the Sri Lankan authorities. Many more, including 27 children, are being detained at sea. As refugee numbers around the world continue to rise, it is time for compassionate, long-term solutions to take the place of harsh policies.
The Australian government is currently detaining at sea 153 Sri Lankan asylum seekers, including at least 32 women and 21 children, who have come from refugee camps in Tamil Nadu to seek refuge in Australia. More than 40 people originally on the boats have been handed over to the Sri Lankan navy, possibly in breach of Australia’s international non-refoulment obligations.
This treatment of Sri Lankan asylum seekers brings to light a continued failure to address the long term problems facing refugees in our region and across the globe. As refugee populations across the globe reach the highest numbers since World War II, it is time to start addressing the root problems forcing people to flee their homes in search of safety and freedom.
Act for Peace Policy and Advocacy Director, James Thomson, has just returned from Tamil refugee camps in India. He speaks to 6PR about the issue. “We understand why Sri Lankans are abandoning the refugee camps in Tamil Nadu in India and why they are coming to Australia rather than being able to return home. Expecting people to live in a refugee camp forever is not a solution and that’s why people are leaving. There is no resettlement queue to join and many can’t return home so what options do they have?”.

James Thomson, Act for Peace Policy and Advocacy Director and international refugee expert.

The camps in Tamil Nadu are set up as temporary camps, they are not a permanent solution, so the services that are provided are basic and rudimentary. Temporary housing, very little access to health or medical facilities, not designed for permanent stay.

- James Thomson, Act for Peace Policy and Advocacy Director and international refugee expert.

Act for Peace supports over 66,000 Tamil refugees in 110 camps in Tamil Nadu through health care, education, nutrition, women’s empowerment, livelihoods and important documentation services for refugees whilst they are in the camps, and to better equip them for safe return to Sri Lanka.
“Through advice, documentation services and protection training we are able to assist refugees in making informed decisions about whether to take a dangerous boat trip to Australia, return to Sri Lanka or try and stay in the camps in India” said Mr Thomson. 

Find out more about Act for Peace’s program work with Sri Lankan refugees.

Interview: James Thomson on Sri Lanka Asylum Boat with 6PR - 30 June 2014

Mr James Thomson, Policy and Advocacy Director, Act for Peace
James is an international expert in refugees and displaced people. He has recently returned from Tamil refugee camps in India. He is the founder of the ACT International Protection Advisory Group and is heavily involved in refugee work. James has served as the Rapporteur for UNHCR’s Annual consulations with NGOs, participated in the DIAC‐NGO Dialogue on Humanitarian issues for the past decade and co-chairs the ACFID Protection Working Group.

More ways to take action

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