Sri Lankan deportees claim Australia mistreatment
41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers who were intercepted at sea and returned by Australia, appear in court
By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
GALLE, Sri Lanka
Simply clothed and with scant luggage, a group of 41 Sri Lankan asylum seekers arrived at a court in the country's southwest on Tuesday after being forcibly returned by Australian authorities -- who they claim mistreated them.
The five facilitators of the journey were remanded in custody, as were four Tamil migrants whose families did not arrive to pay bail, while the others were released on bail of 5,000 Sri Lankan rupees ($38) each.
Among those remanded were a Special Task Force officer and Daluwatte Don Ranjith, who owned the boat and organized the journey. Those bailed will face a court case on May 11 2015.
The migrants were intercepted by Australian authorities and then handed over to the Sri Lankan navy on Sunday, despite public outcry and criticism from international rights groups.
Most of the deportees, who included women and children, had their faces covered with towels, collars and other material as they disembarked the Navy bus which took them to the court.
"Australian authorities have ill-treated us. They have given expired food, which had a date of May 22," a tearful Anthony Fernando, 38, told the Anadolu Agency, while joining the queue outside the court. "But dog which was on board, brought along by a family, was treated well with bacon."
"I am broken and my dream did not come true of reaching New Zealand. I cannot face my family and society," he said.
Sujeewa Saparamadu, the wife of the boat-owner Don Ranjith also claimed to have been badly treated by Australian officials.
"Australian authorities have treated us badly. Most of them have scolded us with word starting with 'F.' We never used that word," she said. "We are human beings. They were cruel to us the way they spoke to us and treated us."
Another asylum seeker, Kasun Hemantha Jayasekara, told AA his father is sick and needed to earn money for his family. "But, I have been deported. I am glad to be back, because otherwise we would have been in prison."
Many of the deportees said they had travelled simply in flip-flops and carrying just a small bag. M.G.Sumanadasa, a 60-year-old mason who travelled bare-foot, was trying to reach New Zealand. "I didn't pay any money and agreed to pay on arrival in New Zealand, as it has been promised by organisers," he said.
Relatives and friends were waiting outside Galle Magistrate's Court in southwestern Sri Lanka to pay the bail money and take the deportees home after their troubled journey.
One of those was Manashika Sandamali sheltered from the heat under a tree. "My husband went to Australia to get a job. He was a driver before he embarked on a boat journey. We have lost the savings, and dignity," she said.