Government regrets comments by Mannar Bishop

The government expressed regret over the statements made by the Bishop of Mannar, Rayappu Joseph, regarding Sri Lankan asylum seekers heading to Australia.

The Bishop had appealed to the Australian government to halt the deportation of Tamil asylum-seekers from the north and east of the country, warning that returnees face intimidation and harassment by security forces.

Bishop Rayappu Joseph, made the appeal in an open letter in which he also claimed some returnees were being forced to turn informant, creating tension in their communities, the Australian media had reported.

“It is common knowledge that those deported back after seeking political asylum abroad are left to live in fear and fright due to being considered traitors by the government and its armed forces,” Bishop Joseph wrote.

“They all are meted out with restrictions, threats, intimidation, questionings, surveillance and other forms of harassments and discrimination by the military, police and intelligence officers. It is my considered opinion that it is highly dangerous for the asylum-seekers from the north and east of Sri Lanka in Australia to be sent back to Sri Lanka in the prevailing political situation in our regions,” he had said.

Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella, speaking to The Sunday Leader, said that it was regrettable that a member of the clergy made such comments.
“The people deported from Australia are not political asylum seekers but economic asylum seekers. When the country is now back to normal it is regrettable that a member of the clergy should make such comments,” Rambukwella said.

He noted that the Australian government was working very closely with the Sri Lankan authorities to address the boat people issue and that cooperation will continue.