I heard this morning (that’s the morning of Saturday the of June 13, , 2009,) that the Department of Immigration and Emigration has taken steps to arrest all foreigners without valid visas. This interested me a lot, especially since Jeremy Page, correspondent for http://www.timesonline.co.uk had howled in protest about aid workers in Sri Lanka, being forced to leave under strict new visa rules. Page is naturally livid since he was himself shown the door some time back.
Jeremy Page has made a list, probably shaken it twice, and ranted about Good Samaritans being treated badly by the Sri Lankan Government.
Page starts with a by now typical unsubstantiated claim (this is how he creates ‘news’ I suppose and what his employer(s) consider ‘ethical’ journalism): “Sri Lanka is hampering international relief efforts by forcing dozens of British and other foreign aid workers to leave the country, because it considers them sympathetic to the defeated Tamil Tigers”. According to Page, Times has reliably learnt this!
Page says that the Norwegian head of Forut, an Oslo-based NGO, was deported and that a British employee of the same organisation was stopped from entering Sri Lanka the previous month. He does not say that the said employee was trying to surreptitiously enter Sri Lanka as a tourist, and that the said ‘head’ was trying facilitate this. So yes, the person’s visa was cancelled.
According to Page, the Forut boss was shown the door because she refused to hoist the National Flag, claiming she wanted Forut to ‘remain neutral’. Neutral, did she say? Neutrality between a Sovereign nation and a terrorist outfit is certainly a thesis waiting to be written. Note that Page does not mention anything about the extraordinary lengths the lady has gone to smuggle in her colleague. I would show such people the door myself.
We live in tough times, Jeremy. Just imagine the same happening in your country. What would your government do? Give a red carpet welcome to a suspicious character? Not after 9/11 and not after 7/7, you will agree. Sri Lanka considered this busybody boss of Forut to be a security threat. Given how trigger-happy the Brits have proved to be after 9/11, I have no doubt that your security service personnel would have first shot, and then asked questions. We are kind, in other words.
Then he says that two foreigners working for CARE International, were forced to leave because their visas were not extended. Well, if your visa status lapses you got to go. Does Page think that all foreign INGO personnel have some kind of right to have their visas extended upon application? Sri Lanka is not a colony of INGO Incorporated, did he not know?
Then he says that a Brit working for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), an Ethiopian working for ‘Save the Children Fund’ and three foreigners working for ASB, a German NGO, were forced to leave. Mr. ‘Reliably Learnt’ does not know that there is no INGO called ‘Save the Children Fund’ operating in Sri Lanka. As for the NRC employee, the organisation had not requested for a visa extension. Does Page think that foreigners can stay on and on and on, just because they are foreigners? Would the UK offer such generosity to foreigners?
Page is good at making vague allegations and little substance. Who are these ASB workers, does he know? Can he tell us?
Time to go
The list goes on and on. The long and short of it is that Sri Lanka, like any other country, has the right to grant visas, refuse visas, grant or refuse extensions to foreigners, those working for INGOs and otherwise.
Page must understand that the track records of most INGOs are far from unblemished. We’ve had INGO bosses and workers caught with their pants down, providing material and other support to a ruthless terrorist organisation. We have to be careful, brother, it is as simple as that.
The problem is that these INGOs think that they can operate outside of the law; that they have a kind of ‘diplomatic’ immunity that even staff of UN agencies don’t have. They’ve had a long holiday courtesy of naïve governments, and an largely indulgent polity. Well, the party’s over. Time to go.
No country gives anyone a blank cheque if it can be avoided. There are standard rules regarding how long a foreigner can stay in this country as a worker. Once the period expires, if an extension is requested, the relevant authorities have the discretion to act either way, based on standard regulations, and an assessment of the individual. Yes, there is screening and that’s not a crime in the post-9/11 world. It is a necessity.
Jeremy’s aid INGO friends, said that the new rules were meant to purge foreign critics and limit the ability of these people and organisations to operate and lobby the government. They are aid workers, right? Their business is to assist. They can engage in dialogue and that is something that the government encourages. Nowhere in their travel and other documents pertaining to resident-status, is the word ‘lobby’ mentioned. They are not journalists. They are not on fact-finding missions. Perhaps these ‘friends’ who believe they’ve been smacked on their busybody bottoms, believe that’s what their role in Sri Lanka was. In that case, they are engaged in espionage, nothing else.
Why are they so worried about Sri Lanka anyway? Don’t they have other countries to go to? Don’t they have enough problems in their home countries? Can’t they go to Iraq, to Afghanistan, to Gaza?
All this can be easily explained. For a long time, they operated as though they were a law unto themselves. Now they realise that there is a state that has the right to oversee, a government that is mandated to ensure that the interests of the nation are looked after- and to take action whenever and wherever these are compromised- or under the threat of being compromised.
Jeremy Page and others like him would not doubt soon start writing about the anxieties of local NGOs, especially those who at one time were vociferous advocates of ‘negotiations’ with the LTTE, and devoted newspaper columns to whitewashing the LTTE’s crimes against humanity, while all the time vilifying the Sri Lankan Government, locally and internationally, calling Sri Lanka ‘a failed state’ and advocating among other things, international intervention and even regime change outside the democratic framework.
These people who have been bleeding-heart humanists pleading the government to go soft on the LTTE, and who have been endowed with the most vivid imaginations around, believing that the end of the LTTE would find Sinhala mobs massacring the Tamil populations, are now worried. Yes, the Tamils after a few weeks of being naturally worried about such things, have gone back to living their lives, as have the Sinhalese, Burghers, Muslims and others. The local NGOs, the ENJOYISTS, are perturbed. Naturally.
To begin with their mutual back-scratching partner, the LTTE is gone. They’ve fallen from the moral high horse, and moreover their supposedly academic observations/analyses have proved to be sillier than that of a third grade student. They’ve got nowhere to hide their faces. They’ve also been partying long. Now it is time to pay the bills and check-out. I would advise the relevant agencies to launch a comprehensive audit inquiry into all these organisations. As usually happens in times like this, there is division in the ranks. There will be sneaks, sneaking on other sneaks. It will all come out.
I believe it is time for Jeremy Page to come to their defence. He’s a thick skinned guy. He can take a lot of egg on his face. Go ahead Jeremy. We are not holding our breath here in Sri Lanka. We got the rascals by their short hairs here in Sri Lanka.