Two returned Sri Lankan asylum seekers keen to try again | Asia Pacific

Two returned Sri Lankan asylum seekers keen to try again

Two returned Sri Lankan asylum seekers keen to try again

Updated 3 December 2012, 22:10 AEDT

In recent weeks the Australian Government has toughened its immigration policy by deciding to remove work rights from asylum seekers who arrive by boat while they wait for their refugee claims to be processed.

Both the major parties believe many of the people arriving on boats from Sri Lanka are economic migrants coming in search of work.

The opposition says the boats they travel on should be towed back and the government has started sending some home who don't claim persecution immediately on arrival.

While many are being sent home against their will, some have chosen to return to Sri Lanka voluntarily, rather than wait for years possibly offshore for their claims to be processed.

Correpondent: Stephanie March

Speakers: Joseph Rupas, returned Tamil asylum seeker; Warnakulasuriya Fernando, returned Sinhalese asylum seeker

MARCH: Three months ago in a village about one hundred kilometres north of Sri Lanka's capital, Tamil man Joseph Rupas had a tough decision to make. His only income was from growing gourds and chillies on rented land, but he was struggling to make enough money to feed him and his family. In a town nearby, he met a man who said for three and a half thousand dollars, he could get him to Australia, where he could find a job. Joseph Rupas took up the offer.

RUPAS: But during the boat trip the man frightened me - I was afraid, so I asked them to turn the around, saying that I was scared. But he said "I'll beat you and throw you in to the sea, don't make any noise".

MARCH: Mr Rupas' boat was intercepted by the Australian Navy near the Cocos Islands... and he was transferred to the Darwin Detention Centre... along with the crew member who threatened to throw him overboard. After two months he received a message his son was sick, he wanted to return to Sri Lanka... but the man in charge of the boat tried to stop him.

RUPAS: To keep me from returning to Sri Lanka, to keep me in Australia, the man told the authorities in Australia I'm mental. He didn't want me to return, because he was worried there might be trouble at his home, because the Sri Lankan police might question me and then go make trouble for his wife.

MARCH: Are you angry with him?

RUPAS: Yes They frightened me and tried to keep me there.

MARCH: Despite the threats, last month he returned home voluntarily. He says he feels duped, and says he has heard the man who he paid the money to and who threatened to throw him overboard has been released into the community in Darwin. Around the same time as Mr Rupas left Sri Lanka Sinhalese man Warnakulasuriya Fernando embarked on a journey to Australia.

His uncle was the captain a people smuggling boat and offered him a free ride.

FERNANDO: No one cares about us in Sri Lanka. I did not have a proper job before I came. Also, we have problems with the government because we support the opposition party. During the elections we hide indoors most of the time. Things like beating us, putting posters on our homes.

MARCH: Instead of telling authorities he feared for his life he only told them about his desire to find work. He was worried that if he criticised the Sri Lankan Government, he would never be allowed back to his home country. He stayed in the Darwin Detention Centre for two months before deciding to return home to see his wife who was having complications with her pregnancy.

It doesn't make me happy to be back he says. Both men say had their family members not fallen ill, they would have stayed on in Australia... despite the prospect of spending years in detention, or being sent offshore for processing.

They say many of the people on boats are fleeing persecution but some are coming in search of work. They agree that the Australian Government's hard-line approach towards people arriving by boat is starting to reach Sri Lanka's poor villages. Warnakulasuriya Fernando says since he got home, he has noticed more stories in the local media about the Australian Government's immigration policy.

FERNANDO: This morning on the news they said that there are 20,000 jobs in Australia, but they only give these to people who come there legally; they did say that they keep people who try to enter illegally in the camps detention centres for quite a while.

MARCH: It seems the message is being lost in translation. The Australian Government has made available 20,000 humanitarian refugee places but Mr Fernando is adamant the newsreader says jobs. He says people are also starting to realise they may be kept in camps for long periods, without the right to work that is if they make it past immigration officials.

FERNANDO: Now I think the amount of people who would come by boats will reduce significantly. They don't even keep people in camps anymore, they send them back to Sri Lanka.

MARCH: Both men say thier lives have improved on return, largely thanks to the three and a half thousand dollars the Australian Government gave them for returning voluntarily. But they say they would like to try to come to Australia again if they could afford it but next time by plane.

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