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Human Rights

Sri Lanka to help Australia curtail “human-smuggling” operations

The Government of Sri Lanka has expressed its fullest support to Australia in curtailing what a Foreign Ministry press release is calling “human-smuggling operations” originating from Sri Lankan shores, even as reports of Sri Lankans entering Australia illegally are on the rise.

This announcement comes in the wake of Canberra intercepting the 13th boat carrying Sri Lankan asylum-seekers in just 18 months, off the Cocos Islands, as reported by Reuters. On 3 September, a day after the interception, Commander of Australia’s controversial Operation Sovereign Borders Major General Craig Furini was in Sri Lanka, where a delegation led by him held a meeting with Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry officials.

In the meeting, Furini, according to the press release, had noted that with the setting up of the ‘Operation Sovereign Borders Policy’ in September 2013, there has been “zero chance” in reaching Australia by boat, as all illegal migrants by sea have been returned to their countries of origin. The Australian government, he had added, wished to develop mechanisms to address the root cause of the issue to “effectively respond to people-smuggling”.

According to Australia’s parliamentary library, some 32 boats were turned back to their countries of origin between December 2013 and June 2018. The Australian reported earlier this week that, on top of those 32 boats, five Sri Lankan vessels have been intercepted since December 2013.

Australia has been widely criticised for its response to international asylum-seekers, with numerous reports of illegal entrants to its shores being detained in camps in Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific island of Nauru under less than hospitable conditions.

Against this backdrop, Sri Lanka and Australia have “re-dedicated themselves to counter people smuggling” and the two governments discussed in detail “avenues for strengthening cooperation to address the recent escalation of the number of people-smuggling ventures from Sri Lanka to Australia since May, 2019,” the Foreign Ministry communique said.

Foreign Ministry Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha, it added, also stressed the need to jointly develop “sustainable and long-term strategies including targeted campaigns to change the public perception and to educate Sri Lankans on the risks involved in irregular migration.”

The Ministry went on to say, “Sri Lanka and Australia have a solid partnership which has been successful in combating people smuggling and transnational border crime. Sri Lanka continues to provide valuable support to Australia in combating people smuggling. The Joint Working Group on People Smuggling and Transnational Crime (JWG) between Sri Lanka and Australia, which is the principal forum to address people-smuggling and human-trafficking cooperation, was last held on 17 October 2018 in Sri Lanka. The next round of the JWG will be held in Canberra, on 11 October 2019.”