Deportation only antidote to human smuggling – SLN Chief tells Aussie HC GoSL-Australia on collision course over refugee boats

Sri Lanka and Australia are on a collision course over what the Australian High Commissioner in Colombo Ms Robyn Mudie asserts is the failure on the part of the Sri Lankan Navy (SLN) to put an end to human smuggling.

Australian HC Mudie urged Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilake Dissanayake to step up SLN action, at a hurriedly arranged meeting at SLN headquarters to discuss the issue last Wednesday (18).

Asked whether Australian action had been prompted by his failure to take tangible measures, Vice Admiral Dissanayake told The Island that trawlers carrying hundreds of men, women and children had been detained since the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009. Those who found fault with the SLN for the crisis had conveniently forgotten that about 400 men, women and children had been taken into custody over the past two weeks alone.

He said: “The SLN intelligence as well as other sister services and police are working overtime to thwart smugglers’ plans. But unfortunately, Australia is not supporting our efforts, though pressure is being brought on us to apprehend those spearheading human smuggling operations.”

Vice Admiral Dissanayake said that the Australian HC had been fully briefed on the situation and Australia’s failure to back the SLN.

Australia would remain the prime attraction for economic refugees as long as it allowed them to exploit their laws, the Vice Admiral said.

Referring to his predecessor, Vice Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe’s call for tightening of Australian laws, Dissanayake said that the situation would change overnight if Australia deported at least a single boatload of bogus refugees. He said, “I brought to HC Mudie’s notice the need to address contentious issues. Those bent on making money will do anything to lure people into leaving for countries like Australia.”

The Vice Admiral alleged that Australia’s refusal to give SLN access to information pertaining to refugees of Sri Lankan origin was a serious impediment to ongoing investigations. I

Australia had refused to reveal details of Sri Lankan trawlers in their custody, he said, alleging that among those detained in Australia were trawler crews. Asked whether he was at least aware of the number of Sri Lankans held in detention in Australia, the Vice Admiral said that except the number of those arrested by the SLN and other State agencies and those deported by Australia, Sri Lanka wasn’t privy to details.

The Australian HC had alerted him recently to the presence of a trawler drifting about 200 nautical miles off Sri Lanka, the Navy Chief said. Although the Australian HC requested prompt action to track down the vessel, she had not revealed its exact location, he said.

The SLN Chief said that tough action taken by the UK had obviously discouraged those seeking to enter that country illegally. He pointed out that almost 1,000 Sri Lankans had been deported from the UK since the conclusion of the conflict.

by Shamindra Ferdinando


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