The Australian government finds itself in something of a crossfire today with news that the authorities have reduced their travel advice with regards to northern Sri Lanka which had previously been seen as a high risk journey by the authorities. Previously the authorities had issued a "do not travel" notice to Australian citizens although this has now been downgraded to "exercise a high degree of caution in northern Sri Lanka". However, there is concern that the authorities may well have manipulated the travel advice in light of the recent deportation of a Tamil asylum seeker back to northern Sri Lanka.

Recent deportation


Tamil asylum seeker Dayan Anthony recently exhausted all of his legal options in an attempt to prevent the Australian authorities from deporting him back to northern Sri Lanka. Originally he sought asylum in Australia back in 2010 amid claims that he would have been tortured and potentially executed on a return to northern Sri Lanka, the base for the so-called Tamil Tigers, although the Australian authorities chose not to believe his story.

After a two-year battle he has now lost any hope of a refugee visas and was this week transported back to northern Sri Lanka just 24 hours before the Australian foreign affairs Department downgraded its travel advice for the region.

Why was northern Sri Lanka a no go area?

For many years now there has been major concern regarding the Tamil Tigers and their activities in northern Sri Lanka with a high chance of politically motivated violence and crime. Indeed there have also been suggestions that land mines are still active in the region and the threat to travellers was seen as severe. However, the Australian authorities have today admitted that new intelligence has led to the recent downgrade of the threat of travel to North Sri Lanka although the region will be monitored on an ongoing basis.

The international travel advice with regards to northern Sri Lanka seems to vary from country to country with the likes of the UK and the US imposing no travel restrictions while Canada seems to have followed the same path as Australia. The reality is that there has been violence in the region, there is political instability and there is a chance of politically motivated violence and criminal activity. Against this backdrop perhaps it was sensible for the Australian government to introduce a no-go travel notice but times have changed.

Is this a convenient reduction in the travel rating?

The very fact that the Australian government had already deported a Tamil asylum seeker back to northern Sri Lanka when the no-go notice was still in place is obviously controversial. The foreign affairs department is supposed to make decisions with regards to travel from an unbiased point of view and a non-politically motivated standpoint. However, if the travel rating for northern Sri Lanka has not been downgraded just 24 hours later there is a suspicion that the Australian authorities may well have faced some kind of legal action.

There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that the travel rating was manipulated by the Australian government although the fact that the change came just 24 hours later is obviously an unfortunate coincidence. Whether we will see a further upgrading of the travel warnings in the short to medium term remains to be seen but if this was to happen then the Australian government would yet again be courting more controversy.

Is Sri Lanka really a risky travel destination?

Stepping aside from the controversy regarding the Australian government and the foreign affairs department many governments do see a threat of violence to travellers in northern Sri Lanka. This has been a somewhat volatile area of the world for some time now and while the authorities continue to monitor the situation and press for a political resolution this would appear to be some way off at this point in time. Rightly or wrongly the country, especially the Tamil Tigers, has been associated with a variety of terrorist activities in different areas of the world which has obviously caught the attention of travellers.

It may seem as though the Australian government is now softening its stance on northern Sri Lanka but in reality there is still a high degree of risk associated with the region. The current rating is the second of four such possibilities with the fourth level being a no travel advice notice.

Asylum seekers in Australia

Asylum seekers and refugees have been a thorn in the side of the Australian government for some time now not helped by the ongoing confusion within the Australian immigration department. Millions upon millions of dollars have been invested in the immigration system but so far the authorities have been unable to find a resolution to the problem. This issue with regards to Sri Lanka is just the latest in a long line of disagreements with overseas governments which has seen Australia dragged into a very embarrassing and politically sensitive matter.

The truth is that the government will need to resolve this issue sooner rather than later and lay down some definitive guidelines and regulations with regards to asylum seekers and refugees. It would be incorrect to assume that the vast majority of refugees are sent "home" because this is not the case but those who are refused residency in Australia tend to grab the headlines.

Conclusion

Time and time again the subject of immigration, asylum and refugees is mentioned in tandem with the Australian government in a not too flattering light. The authorities have tried and failed on numerous occasions to put in place new systems, new regulations and new guidelines together with an array of overseas agreements. So far very few of these new introductions have managed to stick and indeed the government has received a bloody nose not only in the Australian High Court but also in the Australian Senate.

As we approach the election in 2013 there is renewed pressure on the Australian government to bring this matter to a head and find a resolution. Unfortunately, at this moment in time it does not look as though a long-term resolution is just round the corner.