The Australian opposition coalition says it would greatly enhance the intelligence-sharing arrangements with Sri Lanka if it comes to power, providing Colombo with more information on the backgrounds of arriving asylum-seekers, The Australian newspaper reported.
According to the newspaper report the coalition promise came as veteran nurse Marianne Evers — who worked in the Nauru regional processing centre for three weeks last year — likened the site to a concentration camp and claimed gang rapes had occurred in the island facility.
“I actually liken it to a concentration camp — but the Australians don’t have the guts to kill these people and put them out of their misery, because miserable it is,” she told ABC TV’s Lateline.
Evers said she witnessed three or four hangings and had been informed by other staff on the island there had been rapes.
Department of Immigration spokesman Sandi Logan said the allegations should be referred to local authorities.
Logan said comparing the centre to a concentration camp was “a disgrace”.
“I don’t think anyone should be throwing terms like concentration camp around with such abandon,” he said.
In what would amount to a significant deepening on the operational relationship between the two countries, opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison said he would seek to bolster the presence of the Australian Federal Police and Customs and Border Protection in Sri Lanka, while providing more data on arriving boatpeople.
Morrison said the Liberals would provide “generic” information about asylum-seekers including where the boats left from, the origins of the passengers and the name of the smuggler.
The purpose would be to enable Sri Lankan authorities to disrupt the smuggling syndicates.
Morrison said Australian officials would stop short of naming individuals on boats — a move that that could endanger the lives of asylum-seekers, or relatives back home, but he said the present arrangements, where Australia provided virtually no information to Colombo, was a “one-way street”.
“We understand there is sensitivity about people’s specific information, but that doesn’t mean it should operate as a one-way street,” Morrison told The Australian.
“Intelligence sharing should be a two-way street, but obviously respecting some information that would always have to remain confidential because of our obligations.”
The Sri Lankan government has long been privately frustrated at the uneven nature of the intelligence-sharing arrangement with Australia.
Refugee protection obligations have meant Canberra has been reticent to provide too much information about asylum-seekers, who are questioned about the particulars of their journeys when they arrive.
Refugee Council chief executive Paul Power said there were risks with providing Colombo with too much information about boatpeople as Australian officials could not control how it would be used.
“Even if they’re trying to keep some information under wraps, they wouldn’t always be aware of the significance of the information they’re passing on,” Power said.
Morrison, who has just returned from Sri Lanka, said Australia’s intelligence presence needed to be bolstered, noting it did not “match remotely” what was in place in Indonesia.
“The level of integration between our intelligence and police operations and local authorities is not even on the same page,” he said.
He said the Coalition would look to expand the AFP’s footprint in Sri Lanka if it were elected to government on September 14, attacking Labor for having only one officer on the ground.
“There is no obstacle to us returning people to Sri Lanka. The frustration with this government is they’ve known that for a long, long, long time,” he said.
“This surge in arrivals started in May last year and we’re now in February and they haven’t sent one patrol boat. We’ve got one AFP officer in Sri Lanka.”