A UK tribunal has criticized the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) for its inaccurate report on the “low torture risk” met by Tamil’s who return to Sri Lanka. The tribunal found that the information trivialized the numerous abductions and disappearances of Tamil’s in Sri Lanka and underplayed the dangers faced by ex-pats who engage in political activity outside of Sri Lanka. The tribunal has advised DFAT to withdraw the report and create a new one that acknowledges the risk of Tamil’s returning to Sri Lanka. 

In an interview with SBS, Sarah Dale, Refugee Advice and Casework Director stated this DFAT report is “one of the most heavily relied upon documents” in use when processing refugee claims. However, the document was found to lack formal interviews or direct quotes, and “it was difficult to gauge” whether there was any trustworthiness in the sources included in the report. DFAT’s report has been reviewed by various international NGO’s and has been found inconsistent with the information held by the US State Department, Human Rights Watch, and other leading bodies. 

Australia’s ‘most famous refugees’, the Murugappan family from Biloela, are Tamil. Both parents, Priya and Nades, arrived separately in Australia seeking protection in 2012 and 2013. Nades was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. This political group faces persecution from the Sri Lankan government. In 2011 he faced increased interest from the Sri Lankan government and had to leave. Priya fled to Australia after watching her first husband and five other men burn to death in a reactionary movement from authorities. Since then, Priya and Nades met, married, found jobs, and had two children. Australia granted the couple protection visas and the family settled in the small town of Biloela. Twenty-four hours after their protection visa expired, the family was removed from their home and set to be deported. However, community reaction and the intervention of lawyers have prolonged this tug-of-war between the Australian government and the family. Three years later, following a languishing court process, the family remains detained on Christmas Island, one of Australia’s infamous refugee detention centers. The now refuted DFAT report is central in the government’s claims that the Murugappan family would not face any harm if returned to Sri Lanka. 

In response to their pleas for asylum, Home Affairs Minister at the time, Peter Dutton, commented that the war is over and it is time for this family to go home. In an interview with Nine Network in 2019, he said, “I would like the family to accept that they are not refugees, they’re not owed protection by our country”. Presumably, Dutton was referencing the DFAT report that claims Tamil’s in Sri Lanka no longer face hostility. However, this ruling from the UK Tribunal disputes the dismissive claim that the Murugappan family can safely return home. 

The tortured history the Murugappan’s faced before they left Sri Lanka has not changed. The increased media attention the family has received exacerbates the threat they could face from Sri Lankan authorities. If the Australian government returns the family to Sri Lanka, their safety cannot be ensured. On the implications of a false report, Ms. Dale said to SBS media, “the practical implication is that people will be accepted or refused based on this country’s information. And if that country’s information is flawed and people are refused based on that flaw, then people ultimately face being returned to danger..” This implication of an inaccurate report not only affects the Murugappan family but also the thousands of Tamils who have sought refuge in Australia.


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