IOM says some Sri Lankan asylum seekers really economic migrants | Connect Asia

IOM says some Sri Lankan asylum seekers really economic migrants

IOM says some Sri Lankan asylum seekers really economic migrants

Updated 6 November 2012, 17:11 AEDT

The International Organisation for Migration has backed the Australian government's view that some of the Sri Lankans arriving in Australia by boat are economic migrants, not refugees.

The IOM is working with Australia trying to convince Sri Lankans not to make the dangerous journey and helping repatriate those who chose to return home rather than wait for years in detention centres.

Since Australia restarted offshore processing 138 asylum seekers have elected to return to their home country and 125 of them have been Sri Lankans.

Correspondent: Stephanie March

Speaker: Richard Danziger, Chief of mission, International Organisation for Migration in Sri Lanka.


MARCH: The number of Sri Lankans trying to reach Australia by boat has increased dramatically over the past 12 months. 
Last year, there were 211 so-called irregular maritime arrivals from Sri Lanka. 
So far in 2012, there have been more than 5,300.
Richard Danziger is the Chief of Mission for the International Organisation for Migration in Sri Lanka. 
DANZIGER: In the last few months coastal security has really been loosened up by the Sri Lankan government. During the war and the months after that, there were a lot of restrictions on fishing and so forth and that is no longer the case so boats can leave more easily. 
MARCH: But he says one of the biggest driving factors is Sri Lanka's economy. 
Last week Australia's Immigration Minister Chris Bowen sent 26 men back to Sri Lanka who had arrived by boat, suggesting they were economic refugees. 
Richard Danziger says many of those who have chosen to return to Sri Lanka rather than wait to be processed on Nauru or Australia originally left their homeland in search of work.
DANZIGER: You know that is often what we hear, people tell us they were just seeking better lives, jobs, money and so forth.
MARCH: The asylum seekers who do chose to go home often return to tough financial times, with debts owing to the people smugglers who helped them get to Australia. 
Richard Danziger says some are facing pressure from their own families to stay in Australia or Nauru and persist with their claims. 
DANZIGER: I certainly know of one case of a guy who came back from Christmas Island and his family were very annoyed, saying he had given up, he wasn't thinking of them, and he was weak etc etc.  He was facing a hard time on his way back, so I think that must be the case for others. 
MARCH: The Australian Government is offering assistance packages worth several thousand dollars to those who return voluntarily, and are not deemed to be members of people smuggling crews. 
DANZIGER: What we did ten days ago or last week, some of the returnees we had them  on a skype call, established Sri Lankans in Nauru, so they could tell their friends or the other Sri Lankans there, it is actually(words indistinct) in Sri Lanka and basically tell them yes, that what they've been told in terms of the passage is true.
MARCH: The IOM is also working with Australia's Department of Immigration to warn people who do try to come to Australia by boat that they face being detained for a length period, without work rights. 
Richard Danziger has been visiting some of the poorest, coastal communities speaking with fishermen, and religious leaders trying to get the message out. 
DANZIGER: It is very difficult to get the message across. People believe what they want to believe. And I've seen this in so many different contexts around the world.  People just bear in mind the success stories. So they will think of their neighbour or their  friend that made it to Australia, not the 20 that didn't make it. 
MARCH: He says the desire to migrate is often more powerful than any rational argument. 
DANZIGER: I was actually in Indonesia in 2001 during the Siev X tragedy, I was with those that went down on the way to Australia from Indonesia, it was 400 people drowning. Well out of the 50 or so survivors, half of them were ready to get back on the next boat.
MARCH: The monsoon season will soon start, making it more dangerous for those who do chose to make the journey to Australia by boat. 
Richard Danziger says while that may deter some from coming, it will be hard to convince those Sri Lankans who are in search of a better life to stay put. 
DANZIGER: First Sri Lanka is a country of migrants. A quarter of the workforce is abroad legally, whether it's in the Middle East, Europe, North America, Australia. So the idea of migrating for work is not limited to a small number of people, and the legal opportunities for working abroad can't satisfy everybody. So that's when people resort to irregular means.
MARCH: So you think really it's going to take obviously a lot of time before there's any substantial change in the number of people prepared to board boats and head to Australia?
DANZIGER: I'm not sure about that. It is one thing to want to leave, it's another to be able to leave. So I think the new policy will help, the monsoon season will make it more difficult for people to leave and maybe that will be an opportunity, the monsoon season, for us to get the information out about risking a very dangerous journey.


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