Lanka joins talks on people smuggling

From Shamindra Ferdinando in Coolum, Brisbane
More Sri Lankans detained for illegally entering Australia will be sent back in groups, a Sri Lankan diplomatic source said on Thursday.

The source expressed the belief that under Australia’s toughened migration legislation, ‘illegals’ would not have a chance. Responding to questions, the source implied that the two countries were in regular touch with regard to the issue.

Thirty-nine of them were sent back two weeks ago, he said while expressing the belief that more could be on their way home in the coming months, if not weeks.

Five Sri Lankans held off Australia’s Cocos Islands last December for allegedly engaging in lucrative human smuggling, face long jail terms. Under the Australian law, the offence (people smuggling) attracts a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison or a fine of Australian dollars 220,000 or both.

The source said that some Sri Lankans on their way to Austria in unseaworthy fishing vessels had been drowned over the years.

On his way to attend the Commonwealth meeting at Coolum, Brisbane, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Tyronne Fernando flew to the Indonesian tourist island Bali where ministers from 27 countries met over two days this week to discuss ways and means of tackling the lucrative human smuggling operation that involves powerful international gangs. The LTTE too was believed to be involved.

The source said that Sri Lanka and Afghanistan were among the countries that were under pressure to take action against human smuggling. The source implied that Australia has said that all countries in the region should help each other to tackle gangs involved in smuggling operations.

Sri Lanka has assured Australia that they would co-operate fully with Australian authorities in their bid to combat the illegal movement of people, the source said.