Magazine article New Internationalist

Refugee! Terrorist! Criminal!: Not One of the 11 September Hijackers Entered the Country as a Refugee. So Why Are Refugees Being Punished for Terrorism? Damien Lawson Reports on a Worldwide Torrent of New 'Security' Laws

Magazine article New Internationalist

Refugee! Terrorist! Criminal!: Not One of the 11 September Hijackers Entered the Country as a Refugee. So Why Are Refugees Being Punished for Terrorism? Damien Lawson Reports on a Worldwide Torrent of New 'Security' Laws

Article excerpt

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Q. WHICH PUBLIC FIGURE SUGGESTED THAT DETAINED ASYLUM SEEKERS SHOULD BE USED AS 'LIVE TARGET PRACTICE'?

A. PETER DAVIS, MAYOR OF PORT LINCOLN, SOUTH AUSTRALIA IN JUNE THIS YEAR. DAVIS IS A KEEN SUPPORTER OF PAULINE HANSON'S ONE NATION PARTY.

MANICKAVASAGAM Suresh has been given a reprieve by the Canadian Supreme Court - but it may not last. He still faces deportation under Canada's draconian anti-terrorism laws passed in the wake of 11 September.

Suresh was granted refugee status in 1991 after fleeing Sri Lanka's civil war, only to be detained in 1995. He obtained a conditional release in 1998. But then in January this year, reflecting the anti-terrorism angst gripping so many parts of the world, the Canadian Supreme Court said his case should be reviewed.

The Government alleges Suresh has raised funds for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) which is fighting the Sinhalese-dominated Government of Sri Lanka. In the eyes of the Canadian Government this makes him a terrorist, but his lawyers say if he is deported he will be tortured and many other Tamil refugees could meet the same fate.

Suresh is caught in the double bind experienced by many who now seek refuge. They are fleeing their countries because they are being persecuted for their political dissidence or difference. But in their countries of asylum, their political dissidence - their very reason for needing to flee - is used to identify them as potential terrorists who deserve to be detained or deported.

It ain't no crime

International law says that seeking refuge from persecution is not a crime. The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees says a 'refugee' is someone who is outside their country and who has a 'well-founded fear of persecution' for reasons of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. The person must also be 'unwilling or unable' to seek the protection of their country of nationality. States that have ratified the Convention are obliged to consider the applications of persons arriving in their territory and if found to be refugees then the State must permit them to stay in its territory and accord them the basic civil and social rights enjoyed by its citizens. Of course this gives plenty of latitude for governments to exclude people and doesn't cover millions of people displaced by famine, wars, environmental disasters and the economic restructuring wrought by globalization.

However, more and more governments flout the Convention and labels like 'illegal', 'bogus claimants' and 'queue jumpers' are used to scapegoat those who move without visas.

Now, in the aftermath of 11 September, the fear of terrorism is being used to justify a crackdown on unauthorized border crossings and is fuelling the growing backlash against refugees across the world.

Although none of the 11 September hijackers entered the US as refugees, for a media and government that rely on simple messages of fear, any Arab or Muslim is suspect.

Racial profiling, discredited in US policing, has made a comeback. 'Driving while black' is replaced by 'flying while Arab' as the trigger for a pre-emptive detention by police or immigration authorities.

If the general climate of suspicion and racism is not hazardous enough, for many asylum seekers the 'war on terrorism' poses particular dangers.

For people like Manickavasagam Suresh, asylum has been an important way in which countless people in political movements can avoid disappearance, torture and other persecution at the hands of their governments.

Whether fleeing Pinochet's death squads in Chile or the apartheid regime in South Africa activists have often been able to continue their political activities in exile, thus contributing to movements for change. But where once governments, particularly in the North, would support or at least turn a blind eye to such actions now such activity could be labelled terrorist and be grounds for prosecution or deportation. …

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