Marawila police arrest 45 asylum seekers

Last year the Sri Lankan navy prevented over 3,000 asylum seekers sailing to Australia.Under a plan announced by the Australian Foreign Ministry, Australia is to provide Sri Lanka with additional surveillance and electronic equipment to expand the island’s capacity to target smuggling operations and better identify vessel departure times and locations.A high level Australian delegation was in Sri Lanka last year to look at ways to curb boat people reaching Australia to seek asylum. The police found food, mobile telephones and clothes in the possession of the asylum seekers who were preparing for the journey to Australia. Peter Vardos, Deputy Secretary of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, said that Australia is working with Sri Lanka at various levels on the human smuggling issue.He said that both countries have also achieved progress on a “returns agreement” which looks at deporting illegal asylum seekers who reach Australia.Returning people to Sri Lanka is reducing the number of asylum seekers from the Asian nation arriving by boat in Australia, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said in January. The police had also seized a van used to transport the people to Marawila for the boat journey.The Marawila police are conducting investigations. The delegation had talks with the Navy Commander as well as the Ministry of Defence and other officials in Sri Lanka. The police said that the Tamils are all residents of Jaffna while the three Singhalese are from Negombo. The police in Marawila arrested 45 asylum seekers preparing to leave for Australia by boat illegally today.Of those arrested are 42 Tamils and 3 Singhalese nationals, the Marawila police said. “We have returned around 700 people involuntarily to Sri Lanka, and we have seen the number of people coming from Sri Lanka fall to a trickle,” Bowen said.The Australian federal government began returning Sri Lankans last August as part of its suite of measures to stem boat arrivals to Australia.Hundreds of Sri Lankan boat people had managed to reach Australia to seek asylum over the years, mostly during the war between the LTTE and the army. (Colombo Gazette)

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