Tag Archives: boat people

“Alex” Kuhendrarajah and the Australian Media

Michael Roberts

Courtesy of SOUTH ASIA MASALA where it was inserted on 20 January 2010 http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/blogs/southasiamasala/home-2/

The waves of boat people in October 2008 made headline news in Australia. So did “Alex” of the Jaya Lestari. The Australian media stirred the pot: they ran with both the hares and hounds. They catered to the sympathy for these people among Australians of liberal disposition who regard all asylum-seekers as victims of intolerable situations. In the same breadth they promoted opposition to illegal migrants by underlining the surge in numbers of these “queue-jumpers.”

Alex is at the heart of this conundrum. He also underlines the “double act” performed quite deliberately by some arms of the media. Investigative reporters at Merak, where the Jaya Lestari is berthed, chose initially to present his voice without probing deeper. Alex became the face of the poor persecuted Sri Lankan Tamil people fleeing their homeland, victims of persecution. The details attached to this message  included: (a) they had embarked in Malaysia and were heading for Australia; (b) passages could have cost as much as 15,000$; (c) Alex himself, as befitting his Canadian accent, had been educated abroad, but was deploying a pseudonym because his wife and children would be in danger from the Sri Lankan government.

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Crude reasoning, False Images in Sri Lanka’s Refugee Camps

CRUDE REASONING, FALSE IMAGES: SRI LANKA’S REFUGEE CAMPS

Michael Roberts

This article was presented under a shortened title in ABC UNLEASHED on 7 November 2009 and is reproduced here with acknowledgement of this privilege. There were 36 COMMENTS entered in response to this article and I myself responded to four.I append a selection of these comments at theend of the article, dividing them into twosegments, those deemed Dinkum Australians and those deemed Migratnt Australians.

For the original set of comments, see http://www.abc.net.au/unleashed/stories/s2736651

Ever since the war in Sri Lanka moved towards a devastating climax early this year the propaganda war hotted up. With many arms all over the world the pro-Tiger elements have easily bested the government of Sri Lanka in this rhetorical game. If one spins lies, it is wise to take up half-truths, and then embellish and mix them with a couple of enormous fabrications. Then repeat these tales ad nauseam. Reiteration is the modus vivendi of sharp advertisement.

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Tamil migration within and beyond SRI LANKA

by  Michael Roberts

This essay was also presented by the LANKA GUARDIAN web site: see http://www.srilankaguardian.org/ on 19 November 2009. The Editor of that site chose to highlight the following segment within: “Some Tamil people were caught in a pincer between the Sinhala-dominatedgovernment devil on the one hand and the Tiger demon on the other. Significantly, whether fleeing from one or the other, or, more generally,the crucible of war, many chose Tamil-speaking Tamilnadu as their destination. This critical pool of migrants has not been consideredseriously within the present debate in Australia.”

Preamble

In recent months illegal migrants from Sri Lanka have been at the centre of turbulent debate in Australia. While the main focus has been on Sri Lankan Tamils that of a few Sinhalese boat people has gone under the radar. Among them were 12 Karava Catholic fishermen from the Negombo area who landed on the West Australian coast in November 2008. They expressed fears of bodily harm from both the government and the Tigers, a claim accepted blithely by human rights advocates (Weekend Australian 17-18 Oct. 2009). This tale together with that of little Brindha, the little Tamil girl highlighted on Australian television, informed my conviction that some migrants from all ethnic groups who take the illegal path indulge in “white lies”. But note this verdict did not lead me to the conclusion that they should automatically be rejected by Australia.

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Speaking from ignorance: Australians on Sri Lanka & Its Boat People

Michael ROBERTS

PREAMBLE

The original article with this title sent to THE AUSTRALIAN was 1231 words in length. The text was re-drafted in substantial fashion in prose favoured by the Opinions editor and submitted to me for approval. I decided to be pragmatic and bat within my power-limit; so I accepted the changes subject to minor modifications. However, later, I was rather surprised to find that a different title had been imposed: viz. “Taken in by Tamil Tall Tales.”

I am reliably informed that it is standard practice for editors to choose titles. Be that as it may, my response to the Editor still applies: “would you have chosen such a title if you were speaking about an Aboriginal community?” In other words, I was indicating that it is easy to impose market-enhancing titles of an insensitive character when speaking about people beyond one’s domain.

The result, moreover, is that I have had to cop the flak developing from the emotional reactions of patriotic Tamils impelled by patriotic fervour [outpourings that are significant themselves from a sociological point of view].

As my original title indicates, my principal target was, and remains, the ignorance displayed by so many Australian commentators when they evaluated the phenomenon of Sri Lankan boat people and contemporary conditions in Sri Lanka.

As for “Tall Tales,” I hold that illegal migrants from many countries are likely to present fabricated stories when confronted by authorities in their destination of choice. This surmise is partly based on the stories peddled by 12 Sinhalese from the Negombo area who landed on the coast of Western Australia in November 2008 [eleven were refused entry eventually and flown back to the island]. Since then the yarns spun by “Alex,” the spokesperson for the Tamils on the “Jaya Leskari,” have been exposed in ways that add another notch to my argument. A more comprehensive, albeit incomplete, picture of my explicit conjectures on Tamil migration has been composed as Tamil Migration Within and Beyond Sri Lanka.It is available on web in the Lanka Guardian: http://www.srilankaguardian.org/2009/11/tamil-migration-within-and-beyond-sri.html. It will eventually be posted within THUPPAHI.

The  COMMENTS which “Tamil Tall Tales” attracted on the web site of the Australian will also be raided in selective fashion to provide readers with a glimpse of the reactions aroused. further comments are welcomed.

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As a dual Australian Sri Lankan national, what has struck me most about the ongoing debate in Australia about Sri Lankan boat people is the abysmal ignorance about Sri Lanka’s geography and distribution of peoples. This has led to the inability of Australians to put Tamil migration in its historical context and instead to uncritically accept tales of Tamil persecution and even genocide that are patently untrue.

Those known as Ceylon Tamils did not just begin migrating because of the end of the civil war in Sri Lanka. In fact, Tamil migration is a two-stage process and it has been under way for more than a century. Ceylon Tamils began migrating from the north to the south in search of jobs from the late 19th century. By 1921, they constituted 11.5 per cent of the population in Colombo, while Indian Tamils (more recent migrants from the nearby state on the Indian mainland of Tamil Nadu) accounted for 13.4 per cent. So Tamils, (both Ceylonese and of more recent Indian origin), have resided in the city environs for generations. Some Ceylon Tamils have also been a segment of its Westernised elite. However, such status did not protect them during the mini-pogroms of 1958 and 1977 and the major pogrom of July 1983.

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ADJUTANT AUSTRALIA: DISCIPLINING THE “BOAT PEOPLE”

This article was initially submitted to EUREKA STREET, a web magazine that is said to be radical. After delays it was not accepted. I failed in efforts to get it into the public realm in other Australian media outlets. Even though my main target was an Australian audience, It was then accepted by http://www.groundviews.org, on 7 Nov. 2009, where, predictably, it drew few comments from the Sri Lankan readers though 563 did dip into the essay.

The ongoing brouhaha around the boat people ‘storming’ Australian maritime waters displays two tendencies in Australian politics and its cultural underpinnings. The first tendency, A, is the insidious influence of a long-standing hostility to potentially subversive foreign elements. The second dimension, B, is a more recent phenomenon that I shall label “bureaucratititis.”

The force of factor A is of lesser import than factor B in raising the present storm. It is also not easy to demonstrate. So, I merely suggest. I mark the concerns about the “Yellow Peril” of Chinese migrants that prevailed in Australia from the late 19th century and the manner in which it contributed to a White Australia policy. That programme is no more.

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