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* Human Rights Watch tells Australia to promptly settle all claims of refugees including Sri Lankans
Thu, Apr 15, 2010, 12:30 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Apr 15, Colombo: The New York-based humanitarian organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the Australian government's discriminatory policy against Afghans and Sri Lankans violates the International Law and urged Australia to promptly settle claims of all refugees.

In a letter to the Immigration Minister of Australia, Chris Evans on Wednesday, the Human Rights Watch said the Australian government should reverse its decision to suspend the processing of new asylum applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals.

Referring to Australia's April 8th announcement that it has effective immediately suspended the processing of new asylum applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan nationals because the situations in both countries are "evolving", the HRW said it closely monitors the human rights situation in both countries and their research shows that "conditions in both countries are such that individuals returned will still be vulnerable to persecution and lack adequate protection,"

The Australian government said it would suspend new asylum applications from Afghans for a period of six months and from Sri Lankans for a period of three months, in an apparent effort to deter unauthorized arrivals by boat.

HRW says although there is progress with regards to return of displaced persons and conditions in the camps in northern Sri Lanka, the Australian government has failed to recognize that certain groups in Sri Lanka remain extremely vulnerable to persecution and might have a valid claim for asylum.

Although not relevant to the current refugee crisis in Australia where the refugees were ethnic Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, the HRW letter, stresses that since the January presidential elections, "the authorities have arrested, harassed, and intimidated journalists and media workers, civil society activists and opposition party members and supporters."

"Journalists and opposition supporters have also been physically attacked and threatened. One journalist critical of the government remains missing after he disappeared two days before the election," HRW told the Australian Minister.

The humanitarian agency says people suspected of having been involved with the LTTE remain vulnerable as the government still maintains a state of emergency, giving security forces broad powers to detain suspects without complying with due process guarantees.

The HRW accuses the Sri Lankan government of holding more than 9,000 people, whom they say the government detained from among the internally displaced, in "so-called rehabilitation centers" on suspicion of involvement with the LTTE.

"Human Rights Watch research has shown that the government has deprived many of these detainees of their right to a lawyer and the right to have a court review the legality of their detention, giving rise to concerns that some detainees might have been ill-treated or subjected to enforced disappearance," HRW wrote.

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