Turning boats back works: Sri Lankan envoy

Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Australia says turning boats back to his country will deter asylum seekers from making the journey to Australia.
Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe says asylum seekers will be forced to find other ways of getting to Australia if their boats are prevented from leaving Sri Lankan waters.
“Turning the boats around will deter people,” he told ABC Radio on Monday.

“They know that they can’t leave Sri Lankan soil.”

Admiral Samarasinghe’s comments came after a boat carrying 109 suspected asylum seekers en route to Australia was intercepted by the Sri Lankan navy off the island’s eastern coast on Saturday.

The boat was escorted to the port of Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of Colombo, and the passengers handed to local police.

While most asylum seeker boats originate in Indonesia, there has been a recent spike in attempted crossings from Sri Lanka.

Immigration Minister Chris Bowen dismissed suggestions that Australia follow Sri Lanka’s lead and turn back asylum seeker boats.

“It’s very different to turn a boat back or disrupt a boat in Sri Lankan waters, by Sri Lankan authorities,” he told ABC Radio.

“If you turn a boat back either in Australian waters or in international waters, under international law they must be brought to the nearest port of call by the rescuing authority.”

That could entice asylum seekers to sink their boats to prompt a response from Australia’s maritime rescue body.

“That is not the case in Sri Lanka … just as it’s not the case with any other disruption activities by a home country,” Mr Bowen said.

Admiral Samarasinghe said Sri Lankan authorities never used force when turning asylum seeker boats around.

“When we stop (them) they have no other option than turn around with us,” he said.

“They can’t keep on going.”

Those turned back to Sri Lanka will be forced to look for legitimate ways of travelling to Australia.

“There is no other way (if) they are not well educated or they don’t have money,” he said.

“So they will want to maybe do a course of training, request for education…”

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