Sri Lankan asylum-seekers deserve hearings

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Aug. 4 news story "U.S. monitoring Sri Lankans aiming for North America, asylum" quoted a former Pentagon official who advocated summarily sending approximately 200 Sri Lankan Tamil asylum-seekers, now on a boat heading toward North America, back to Sri Lanka. This is a dangerous, ill-considered position.

The article stated that some of the boat people may be members of the Tamil Tigers. During Sri Lanka's civil war, both the government and the Tigers committed brutal human rights abuses, including war crimes. Those guilty of these crimes shouldn't get asylum. But all Sri Lankan Tamils aren't Tigers, and given the Tigers' history of forced conscription, not every Tiger is necessarily guilty of crimes.

Further, the asylum-seekers could be at risk of harm if returned to Sri Lanka. Thousands of Tamils suspected of being members of the Tigers are being detained there without charge; some have reportedly been tortured or have died in custody.

People seeking asylum have the right to a fair hearing on the merits of their individual cases. Treating them all like war criminals without giving them hearings is simply unjust.

James McDonald, Chicago

The writer is Sri Lanka country specialist at Amnesty International U.S.A.

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