Australian Gen. warns Lankans over illegal migration

... HC Holly sidesteps query on war crimes stand


Australian High Commissioner Holly addresses the media at the Negombo Fisheries Harbour. (From left) Rear Adm.Attygalle, HC Holly, Maj, Gen. Furini and Commander Williams (Pic by Nirosha Soyza)

by Shamindra Ferdinando

Australian High Commissioner David Holly, yesterday, sidestepped a query on his government seeking Sri Lanka military assistance to curb illegal migration to that country while condemning Colombo over unsubstantiated war crimes allegations.

Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.

The Island raised the issue at a press conference called by Australia at the Negombo fisheries harbour.

Flanked by Major General Craig Furini, in charge of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, Director Naval Operations Rear Admiral N.P.S. Attygalle and Commander Jason Williams of Federal Police, HC Holly asserted that there could not be a connection between the ongoing operation meant to deter illegal migration and the accountability issue.

Asked whether it would be fair to secure Sri Lanka’s assistance and cooperation, after our Maj. Gen. Chagie Gallage was snubbed by denying him a visa on the basis of being in command of the 59 Division on the Vanni east front in 2009, HC Holly insisted: "They were two separate matters."

Gallage was denied visa after the conclusion of the war while he was serving Army as the Director General of Infantry. Australia cited uncorroborated UN reports, including that of the highly controversial the UNSG Panel of Experts’ (PoE) to reject the decorated officer’s visa application.

Australia stepped up efforts to discourage illegal migration from Sri Lanka against the backdrop of Australian PM Scott Morrison refusing to budge on planned deportation of a Tamil family.

The Island sought an explanation from Major General Craig Furini and HC Holly as regards the Aussies having an ‘in-built’ system to encourage migration though the government engaged in costly operation to discourage illegal migrants. Maj. Gen. Furini emphasised that he disagreed with The Island assertion. The Joint Agency Task Force Commander, who had been here in June this year, explained the apparatus in place there to address the issue.

Australian media reported a section of the Australian parliament and various refugee activists campaigning against the planned deportation of a Tamil family from Queensland.

The Major General said that Australia didn’t encourage illegal migration.

Australian court stayed the deportation much to the contention of the Morrison government. They had reached Australia prior to the launch of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders.’

At the onset of the briefing, HC Holly warned that Australia wouldn’t accommodate illegal migrants under any circumstances. The HC reiterated their strong commitment to what he called ‘Zero Chance’ campaign launched in June 2019.

Maj. Gen. Furini explained measures taken by Australia in consultation with Sri Lanka to send back three groups of Sri Lankans who risked their lives to reach Australian territorial waters this year. Since May 2019, Australia deported altogether 38 Sri Lankans on three separate occasions, the Australian official said.

"Australia shares a strong and productive relationship with the Sri Lankan government. Together we are working to combat people smuggling, educate the vulnerable people they target and stopping people from dying at sea," Furini said.

Australia and the previous Rajapaksa administration reached an agreement on an operation to counter human smuggling. In return for Sri Lanka’s support, Australia gifted two Bay Class patrol boats to the Sri Lankan Navy.

Maj. Gen. Furini declared that since the launch of ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ in Sept 2013, Australia had intercepted 12 people smuggling boats and returned 204 persons.

As part of their overall efforts to discourage illegal migration, Australia yesterday announced plans to host a short film festival to create awareness among the community.

Both HC Holly and Maj. Gen. Furini stressed that those violating Australian borders wouldn’t be accommodated under any circumstances. "Australia’s tough border protection policies mean no one who travels illegally by boat will ever be allowed to live or work in Australia. By attempting the illegal journey, they automatically lose any chance of legal migration to Australia they may ever have."

At the conclusion of the briefing, in response to a query, Holly referred to Sri Lanka enhancing her capacity to patrol seas with the acquisition of new naval assets, including US Cutter. HC Holly also referred to making available some smaller craft to Sri Lanka in addition to the Bay Class patrol boats.

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