Australia immigration

IMMIGRATION Minister Scott Morrison made a secret, whirlwind trip to the former Tamil Tiger-held north of Sri Lanka last night where he met the Colombo-appointed governor but snubbed the elected Tamil chief minister.

Mr Morrison flew into the northern city of Jaffna, once held by the now-vanquished Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, yesterday afternoon, following in the footsteps of British Prime Minister David Cameron who made a similar trip during the Commonwealth heads of Government meeting in November.

But where Mr Cameron met with Tamil war widows, war refugees whose land had been seized by the military and families still searching for disappeared loved ones, Mr Morrison’s visit was cloaked in secrecy.

After attending a morning commissioning ceremony in Colombo of two Bay Class patrol boats donated by Australia to the Sri Lankan navy with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his defence secretary brother Gotabhaya, Mr Morrison flew to Jaffna to meet Governor GA Chandrasiri, a former senior military officer.

Outside the governor’s residence last night Mr Morrison told local Jaffna journalists he was “amazed and impressed by the scale of transformation that’s been taking place over the past five years”.

“The Australian Government knows Sri Lanka has had a difficult past. This is my second visit to Jaffna and, even in the past 13 months, to see the changes that have taken place I can only commend the governor and wish the new provincial government all the best as they continue their work to provide a future and society where people can prosper and live peacefully with each other.”

But former Supreme court judge CV Wigneswaran, who was elected chief minister of the northern province last September, told The Australian he knew nothing of the Immigration Minister’s visit.

Editor of the Jaffna-based online news site Nadesapillai Vithyadharan confirmed Mr Morrison arrived late to Jaffna and met only with the governor.

Senior Tamil National Alliance MP and lawyer MA Sumanthiran said he was disappointed that Mr Morrison had squandered the opportunity to learn more about the plight of Tamil citizens in the war-ravaged north, particularly in light of Tony Abbott’s comments that Sri Lanka was a country at peace.

“Nothing could be further from the truth. We had been trying to reach the Australian high commission for days to see if we could meet with him,” Mr Sumanthiran said.

“It’s very strange that he would choose not to meet with elected representatives.”

Earlier in the day Mr Morrison hailed the “strong partnership that exists between Australia and Sri Lanka in dealing with people smuggling” and dismissed as offensive allegations by Sri Lankan asylum seekers that they were mistreated on board an Australian customs vessel before their return to Sri Lanka on Monday.

Mr Morrison’s visit comes four days after the Sri Lankan navy met an Australian customs vessel off the east coast of Batticaloa and took custody of 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were intercepted a week earlier near Australia’s Cocos Islands.

He said he had no concerns those returnees would be mistreated by Sri Lankan authorities, as some refugee advocates have claimed, based on the same reassurances Colombo had made to the previous Labor government.

Before his visit to Sri Lanka this week Mr Morrison had been urged by Tamil diaspora groups in Australia to visit Jaffna and meet with Tamil leaders and war-affected civilians.

David Cameron described as harrowing the stories he was told by war survivors during his visit to a resettlement camp in Jaffna, where some 300 families who fled their villages during the last brutal months of fighting still remain, unable to return home. (The  Australian)


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