The Sri Lankan navy has intercepted a boat carrying 40 people headed forAustralia, as authorities inColombo crack down on illegal migration rackets. People smugglers in Sri Lanka charge about $5,000 for a risky, one-way journey to Australia, but the navy has stepped up patrols to stop migrants illegally leaving the island’s shores. “Those arrested are all Sri Lankans, who had set off on their journey in a fishing vessel from Negombo town just north of Colombo, said navy spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya. Boats from Sri Lanka are believed to take around three weeks to travel to Australia, although some migrants travel by air to Indonesia and then take rickety wooden vessels to the Australian coast.
The Australian High Court last month banned the Federal Government’s plan to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia. Labor’s new border protection policy – which could include changing the Migration Act – will be put to Cabinet on Monday morning before it’s taken to a special Caucus meeting.
The Greens have accused the Federal Government of trying to bypass international law in a bid to process asylum seekers offshore. “What we are seeing here is Julia Gillard moving asylum seeker policy to the right to the nasty side of John Howard,” Greens leader Bob Brown said. “It’s very clear that Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott are edging toward an unholy alliance on immigration to get around international law to allow offshore processing of asylum seekers coming to this country. It is very clear that’s illegal.”
The Coalition supports offshore processing for asylum seekers, but wants the Government to reopen the detention centre on Nauru, an option that Immigration Minister Chris Bowen has downplayed as costly and ineffective. Senator Brown says offshore processing should not be considered. On Saturday, Attorney-General Robert McClelland told ABC’s News 24 the Migration Act could be amended to allow offshore processing.
Shamindra Ferdinando, in The Island, 12 Sept. 2011
Acting on information elicited from those involved in human smuggling operations, the Sri Lanka Navy on Sunday (Sept 11) intercepted a trawler carrying 44 persons, including a woman and two children, off Kalmunai.
Navy headquarters told The Island that the trawler had been on its way to Australia. The detection was the first sinceAustraliaandMalaysiareached a controversial agreement to transfer illegal immigrants arriving inAustraliatoMalaysia. Under the agreement, finalized on July 25, 2011,Australia would send 800 asylum seekers to Malaysia and would accept 4,000 people from that country who have been verified as legitimate refugees by the United Nations. Australia holds asylum seekers, including Sri Lankans at Christmas Island, between Indonesia and Australia’s west coast.
Australian diplomatic sources told The Island that the agreement with Malaysia was part of their overall measures to discourage illegal immigrants. Sources said that Sri Lanka had supported Australia’s efforts to curb illegal immigration with the navy playing a pivotal role.
Those arrested by the navy off the east coast are believed to have paid Rs. 300,000 each. Initial investigations indicated the multi-day trawler had left Negombo and picked up the human cargo at Kalmunai. The navy brought the trawler to Trincomalee. “We are in the process of tracking down the owner and those involved in the smuggling operation,” sources said.
Responding to a query, sources said that human smugglers would take advantage of the suspension of the Australia-Malaysia agreement targeting illegal immigrants.Australia’s High court in late August ruled the government couldn’t send illegal immigrants who arrived by boat toMalaysia.
The government’s plan doesn’t meet the necessary criteria for dealing with refugees, including providing adequate protection for asylum seekers under international or domestic law, the High Court of Australia said in a unanimous ruling by the seven-judge panel issued in Canberra on Aug. 31. In spite of the conclusion of the war in May 2009, Sri Lankans continue to seek political asylum in theUS, Europe andAustralia.