Navy Spokesman, Captain Indika de Silva told Ceylon Today that in the last two weeks, the Navy has intercepted seven boats carrying illegal immigrants to Australia due to the ‘economic crisis’ and over 360 people have been arrested attempting to flee the country in boats.

According to the Navy, 41 people who travelled by boat to Australia arrived two days ago on special charter flights arranged by the Australian Government. A total of 68 people have managed to enter Australia within the last two weeks. The smugglers charged Rs 1 million to transport them to Australia.

According to the Spokesman, over 68 persons who fled on boats had slipped away from the Navy patrol and they are coming in batches from Australia. He said they cited the economic crisis as the reason to flee Sri Lanka. “They are mostly from Negombo, Chilaw, Marawila, Trincomalee, and Batticaloa.”  

The Spokesman added that over decades there were boat people trying to leave for Australia, but this time it seems to be a large number of persons. He further pointed out that the smugglers seize the opportunity when crises occur and began to sail around the country advertising human smuggling for thumping payments.

He added that compared to leaving for Tamil Nadu, many want to leave for Australia.

Many have been detained and booked for leaving Sri Lanka illegally and Magistrate Courts in many parts of the island are presently engaging in charging the ‘refugees’ and the smugglers.

He also pointed out that these smugglers have told the boat people that the new Australian Government is “lenient” towards refugees arriving in their country. “However, that is not the case,” he added. “All those who entered the shores of Australia are sent back on flights. Despite the Government changing, the laws are as strict as before in Australia,” he said.

He pointed out that fishermen are issued permits and can leave fishing harbours, but these boats roam around the coastal belts to shuttle people to big boats and many boats have slipped away from the Navy, he added.

The Australian Government had gifted two sophisticated patrol boats to the Sri Lanka Navy and there are many other patrol boats. “Despite patrolling, three boats ‘slipped’ from our sight, those 68 odd persons will come on the flight.”

We patrol nearly 1,340 km (770 nautical miles) of Sri Lankan waters and still, the smugglers find ways to slip away, he added. 

Australian Minister for Home Affairs and Cyber Security, Clare O’Neil arrived in Sri Lanka yesterday (20) and held discussions with her Sri Lankan partners about how Australia can deepen cooperation and assist Sri Lanka as the country faces very difficult economic times, as well as strengthening engagement on transnational crime, including people smuggling.

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan