The best antidote to human smuggling

Time was when the Sri Lanka Navy had to concentrate only on protecting this country’s national security interests. It accomplished the Herculean task of bringing the LTTE’s arms smuggling operations to an end and neutralising the Sea Tigers well ahead of the conclusion of the war, though Prabhakaran used to boast that the final battle for Eelam would be fought not on land but at sea. The Navy sank several floating warehouses of the LTTE in daring operations against tremendous odds and successfully destroyed Prabhakaran’s suicide boat squadron which had been thought to be invincible.

Today, the Sri Lanka Navy has been burdened with the task of safeguarding the interests of a foreign country as well. Its raison d’être in peace time appears to be nabbing the Australia-bound illegal emigrants! Worse, it is coming under increasing pressure to stop illegal migration while Australia is dodging the question of deporting the so-called illegals.

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilake Dissanayake drove home some valid points as regards illegal migration when he met Australian High Commissioner in Colombo Robyn Mudie recently. In fact, he told her some home truths, the most important being that though the Navy was doing everything possible to help solve the problem, Australia’s refusal to deport the bogus asylum seekers had caused it to get out of hand.

Australia’s failure to send back the economic refugees has only encouraged others of their ilk and organised human smugglers to try their luck. They appear to be under the impression that if they could avoid the Sri Lanka Navy and enter international waters, they stand some chance of making it to Australia. If they are made to realise that even if they manage to escape the Navy, they will eventually be sent back home, there is sure to be a drastic decrease in the number of people embarking on perilous voyages in the hope of receiving refugee status down under. Why Australia hesitates to send a strong message to the would-be illegals by effecting deportation is rather baffling. It looks as if Australia had ‘outsourced’ its responsibility to Sri Lanka!

Regrettably, Australia, which is urging Sri Lanka to go the whole hog to protect its interests, stands accused of harbouring anti-Sri Lankan terror groups on its soil.

Some commentators are arguing that it is Australia’s human rights concerns that prevent deportation, but their contention makes no sense because if it is wrong for Australia to send back illegal migrants then it should be equally wrong to have them nabbed in Sri Lankan waters. For, if it is claimed that deportees’ human rights are violated back in Sri Lanka, how could it be argued that the human rights of Australia-bound illegals captured by the Navy and handed over to the police are not violated? Even Britain, which is highly critical of Sri Lanka’s human rights record, has dismissed allegations that the bogus Sri Lankan asylum seekers it deports face ‘persecution’. So, it is puzzling why other countries cannot follow suit and help solve the problem of Sri Lankan economic refugees troubling them.

True, Sri Lanka cannot absolve itself of the responsibility for preventing its economic refugees from being a nuisance––an expensive one at that––to other countries. But, the fact remains that if Australia expects better results in its operations to stem the rise of illegal migration, it ought to help Sri Lanka help it.

Sri Lanka may be urged to step up operations to block the flow of bogus asylum seekers at the source, but Australia should, for its part, begin deportation or be prepared to contend with a huge influx of the so-called boat people indefinitely.

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