A Dandenong refugee advocate is ramping up his call for Tamil asylum seekers to be joined by family members stranded in Sri Lanka.
Wicki Wickiramasingham, a long-time ALP member, says it’s time for the newly-installed Labor Federal Government to re-open a special humanitarian visa program.
It should be similar to what was offered for Tamil refugees fleeing civil war in Sri Lanka 20 years ago and more recent humanitarian responses, he argues.
“We expect the government to respond with the same generosity as for refugees in Afghanistan and Ukraine (last year).”
So far, the government has offered aid, both humanitarian and to ‘stop the boats’. But no humanitarian visas.
With the Sri Lankan President resigning, the nation was “without a leader”.
“The current situation is very, very bad,” Mr Wickiramasingham said.
“All the citizens (in Sri Lanka) are suffering without food, electricity, petrol and water and medical necessities. Hospitals have been cancelling surgeries.
“There are still people losing their families during the (Sri Lankan civil) war.
“We should be giving them a better future.”
First priority should be visas for partners and children of long-suffering asylum seekers living in Australia, he argues.
About 11,000 asylum seekers in the South East languish without income support or work rights, he says.
Some have not seen their relatives for up to 16 years. Their children are growing into adults without them, he says.
The former Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre director, like many Tamils, has fled war-stricken Sri Lanka. He migrated to Australia on humanitarian grounds in 1988.
He is pleading with desperate Tamil community members to stop their families from fleeing on people smugglers’ boats.
By that method, many lives had been lost at sea, he said.
“I agree no boats should come here.
“We don’t want to lose lives in the sea because they trusted these illegal agents.”
Dandenong-based migration agent Thayhorn Yim said Sri Lanka was in a “crisis happening before our eyes”.
He called for Immigration Minister Andrew Giles to give a “reprieve” to Sri Lankan asylum seekers or visitors in Australia.
“This is just like what the previous Coalition Government has done for Ukrainians recently.
“It would be very inhumane to force them to return at this time.”