Angry protests from Sri Lankans domiciled in Australia and the High Commission there forced the withdrawal of Australia’s Bureau of Statistics (ABS), giving an option, particularly to those of Tamil origin, to declare whether they are from ‘Tamil Eelam’ when responding to a query on their “country of birth”. This is for a national census now under way.
The Government agency has taken the step despite Canberra placing a ban on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Once the details of the survey appeared on the ABS website, Sri Lankans of different nationalities bombarded the High Commission with e-mails and telephone calls seeking an immediate removal of the offending reference.
In Canberra, Sri Lanka’s High Commission received a barrage of telephone calls and emails on August 6-7 drawing attention to the inclusion of “Tamil Eelam” on the ABS website for the ongoing 2016 national census. It was given the same code as Sri Lanka and Ceylon. This meant that Australians of Sri Lankan origin participating in the census were offered the option of selecting “Tamil Eelam” as the country of birth.
The High Commission swung into action on August 9, which was the first working day after the matter was drawn to its attention. An official protest was lodged with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and also with the Head of ABS. It is learnt that High Commissioner S. Skandakumar spoke directly with the ABS and followed up with a letter.
In the letter, Mr. Skandakumar asked the Head of ABS to inquire into how “Tamil Eelam” made an entry into its website when the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was listed in Australia as a terrorist entity, under Australian regulations promulgated to give effect to UN Security Council Resolution 1373. It was underscored that the name appearing on an official website was unacceptable.
DFAT was particularly concerned about the development and assured the High Commission that “Tamil Eelam” would be removed from the ABS website by August 9. It is learnt that DFAT officials maintained constant contact with the Sri Lankan High Commission until the change was made. It was done, as promised, around 2.30 pm on August 9. The Sri Lankan High Commissioner has also requested a meeting between Mr. Skandakumar and the Head of ABS. It is not clear whether it would be granted as the census goes on till September 23. The ABS is also receiving much criticism as its website was hacked into on the night of August 9. Authoritative sources said the Sri Lankan Government was trying to determine the nature of the campaign that had led to “Tamil Eelam” making its way into the ABS website. Sri Lankans who complained to the High Commission in this regard are being encouraged to write to the Australian Government and their local Members of Parliament voicing protest.
It is suspected that pro-LTTE lobbyists had been working on the stunt for “a long time”. “It’s not the sort of thing you can do overnight and they must have finally managed to influence someone inside who went and included this, either in ignorance without proper checking, or maliciously,” a senior diplomatic source said, on condition of anonymity. (Sunday Times)