The ongoing controversy surrounding the fate of the 78 Sri Lankan refugees onboard the Oceanic Viking has sparked debate in academic circles as to what approach Australia should take.
Curtin Master’s student Sergei DeSilva-Ranasinghe says Australia should be mindful about the types of refugees seeking entry into the country.
Mr DeSilva-Ranasinghe, who is currently writing his master’s thesis on Australia’s evolving defence policy in the Indian Ocean said many former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), could be among the boat people on route to Australia.
‘Since the conflict in Sri Lanka ended in May, the government has suspected that about 10,000 unidentified LTTE fighters were hiding in refugee camps and posing as civilians,’ he said.
‘It’s important that the Australian government recognise this in dealing with the current situation,’
‘After all this issue concerns Australia’s internal security, as well as having broader implications on our foreign policy, especially in relation to Sri Lanka.’
Mr DeSilva-Ranasinghe’s opinion piece on the issue, There are tigers among boat people which was recently published in The Australian, sparked an array of comments and was read out on Alan Jones’ radio program.
Mr DeSilva-Ranasinghe said he felt motivated to write the piece to provide a balancing perspective on how refugees are portrayed in the media.
‘I think we would be naive to assume that all refugees are what some humanitarian organisations make them out to be, we should take contexts into considerations.
‘I’m not saying all refugees from Sri Lanka are terrorists, I’m just saying Australia should exercise caution and be thorough in its screening processes.’
Suvendrini Perera, a senior research fellow in the Faculty of Media, Society and Culture at Curtin agrees there has been a degree of imbalance in reporting on refugees in the Australia media, but she says the coverage has been biased against refugees.
‘Since 2001, there has been a long tradition in Australia of politicians and other interested parties, painting all asylum seekers as terrorists,’ she said.
‘I think is important for us to understand that the people on the boats are often victims of both parties, they are often people caught in the middle of this conflict.’
Ms Perera also said the Australia government’s screening process was already very rigorous and that many people had already been turned back.
‘ I think [the Sri Lankan refugees] should be brought [to Australia] and properly processed,’ she said.
‘Many of these people have already been in refugee camps for 5 or so years and already been declared genuine refugees by the UN.’
Ms Perera spoke in more detail about this issue to Phillip Adams on ABC Radio National’s Late Night Live.