Australia takes Tough Line on Asylum Seeking Boat People

Asiri Fernando, in Sunday Times, 28 July 2019, where the title is

Five Sri Lankan men who attempted to reach Australian shores by boat were repatriated to Colombo this week. Several attempts by Sri Lankans to sail illegally into Australia the past three months have raised questions if human smugglers are probing Canberra’s resolve to stop such incursions following the federal election in May.

Three such attempts were intercepted by the Australian and Sri Lankan authorities since then, resulting in 66 Sri Lankans being repatriated, a spokesperson for the Australian Department of Home Affairs said. Police said all those sent back were adult males. Australian authorities notified their Sri Lankan law enforcement counterparts via the Sri Lankan High Commission in Canberra prior to deporting the asylum-seekers by air.

A resolute Australian Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, addressing the media in Colombo last month, stressed there was no change in government nor immigration policy and warned people smugglers and would-be illegal immigrants they would be promptly returned if they made the illegal journey by sea. The Liberal Party government in Australia introduced strict immigration policies a few years ago after an influx of asylum-seekers, or economic migrants, began to arrive on Australian shores.

In 2013, the Australian government initiated a combined law enforcement and military operation aimed at “stopping the boats”. These measures and the subsequent offshore detention of asylum-seekers, including women and children, has attracted criticism from many human rights groups but the policy enjoys widespread domestic support in Australia and immigration policy remains a key political issue.

Since the establishment of Operation Sovereign Borders in September 2013, Australia has returned to Sri Lanka 196 people from 12 boats, the Australian Department of Home Affairs told the Sunday Times. For this year the Sri Lanka Navy has intercepted 150 individuals onshore and at sea attempting to make the journey by boat.

Australia and Sri Lanka have a well-established relationship on maritime safety and maritime crime and share intelligence on human smuggling and other maritime criminal activities, a senior navy officer told the Galle Dialog 2018 defence seminar last year.

Last month, a Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) maritime patrol aircraft detected a Sri Lankan multi-day (large) trawler in distress on the high seas and informed the Sri Lanka Navy, which dispatched SLNS Nandimithra to the rescue. On board were 41 Sri Lankans attempting to make an illegal journey to Australia.

“We work closely with our Australian counterparts on countering maritime crime and promoting safety at sea,” Navy spokesman Lieutenant-Commander Isuru Suriyabandara said.

Returnees have been produced before the Negombo Magistrate and charged under the Immigration and Emigration Act. Those charged as being passengers face a fine of up to Rs. 50,000 each. Those who are found to have organised the journey, collected a fee for it and navigated the vessel can face a jail sentence between six month and two years and be levied a fine, said lawyer Suraj Jayamana who has frequently represented returnees.

He pointed out that many of those who are found to have been passengers are released on bail. One such returned asylum-seeker, a 42-year-old resident of Chilaw who did not wish to be named, told the Sunday Times that although he was prepared to pay the fine he was dismayed that the court processes had dragged on since 2016.

“We can’t get on with our lives with the court case dragging on,” he complained. “We want people in Sri Lanka to understand the truth: Australia’s borders are the best protected in the world. Anyone attempting to come to Australia illegally by boat will be returned. There are no exceptions,” the spokesperson for the Australian Department of Home Affairs said.



The instances cited above could well be Sinhalese people of an enterprising nature seeking better pastures whereas the majority chancing their welfare on boarts in the past were Tamil from the island or from refugee camps in India.It is not insignificant that the spokespersons from both counties did not specify the ethnicity of those sent back, Silences also speak.

SEE “A Flourishing Bibliographical Tree: Tamil Migration, Asylum-Seekers and Australia,” 30 July 2012,

ALEXAlex Kuhendrarajah of Merak notoriety –courtesy of Australian  courtesy of

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