Protect Sri Lankan Refugees


Target: Tony Abbott, Prime Minister of Australia

Goal: Ensure the safety of a group of Sri Lankan refugees who may face torture, ill-treatment, and persecution in their homeland

A group of 153 Sri Lankan refugees en route to Australia was recently intercepted by the Australian navy, who has maintained silence about the group’s whereabouts ever since. Advocates are worried that the refugees’ safety and well-being may be at risk. Sign the petition and urge Prime Minister Tony Abbott to ensure that the group is treated in accordance with international refugee protocol.

The group, who apparently set out from Tamil Nadu, India, made contact with journalists and human rights advocates in Australia when they reached Christmas Island, “a remote territory of Australia.” However, the refugees were detained by the navy shortly thereafter, and no contact has been made with them since.  Over a week later, court documents revealed that the Australian government was attempting to turn the refugees over to Sri Lankan authorities, although this move was–for the time being–blocked by the High Court of Australia “pending further investigation in the lawfulness of this action.”

It is believed that most of the refugees are Tamils, who are often persecuted in Sri Lanka for their involvement (or perceived/suspected involvement) with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a militant separatist group that fought against government forces in the Sri Lankan Civil War. Amnesty International’s records show that many Tamil refugees forcibly returned to Sri Lanka face torture and imprisonment, and that all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka face increased levels of violence, including sexual violence.

Australia is obligated to provide asylum seekers with “a full, fair, and rigorous refugee status determination process, including access to legal representation and the opportunity to submit evidence in support of their protection claims,” a responsibility it has heretofore shirked. The 153 refugees involved are likely to face imprisonment, torture, and even death if they are returned to Sri Lanka. Sign the petition reminding Australia of its responsibilities as a member of the global community, and urge Prime Minister Abbot to respect the rights of refugees.


Dear Prime Minister,

I am writing to express my concern for the fate of 153 Sri Lankan refugees currently being held by the Australian Navy. The current plan to return the refugees to Sri Lanka violates international agreements against refoulement and puts each of the refugees at risk of imprisonment, torture, ill-treatment, and even death. I urge you not to forget Australia’s obligations under international law, and I demand that the group of asylum seekers be granted all the hearings and evaluations to which they are entitled in a timely and fair manner.

The refugees are believed to be Tamils, who are persecuted in Sri Lanka on suspicion of being involved with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. If imprisoned, they face torture and ill-treatment for their supposed “crimes.” Furthermore, Amnesty International reports that all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka are at great risk of persecution and violence, including sexual violence.

In accordance with the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, confirmed asylum-seekers have the right not to be detained for “illegal stay or entry.” Additionally, it is the responsibility of the Australian government to fully investigate and fairly evaluate the refugee status of those seeking asylum. The recent attempted refoulement of the 153 refugees, which was only delayed by an injunction from the High Court of Australia, displays a flagrant disregard for international human rights agreements. I urge you to rectify this immediately by granting fair hearings and evaluations to the 153 people seeking a better life in Australia, and to respect Australia’s international obligation not to return people to a country where they face persecution and danger.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: Lachlan Fearnley via Wikimedia Commons

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61 Signatures

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