Despite efforts of Australian authorities to deter Sri Lankan refugees from taking ferries from Indian shores to Australia, such illegal migrants have been on the rise, braving death and danger in the high seas.
Australian consul general in south India David Holly told reporters here on Tuesday that since the country introduced its “no advantage policy” in August last year, 1,177 Sri Lankans have been sent back.
Between June and August last year, some 6,000 Sri Lankan refugees went to Australia illegally , and thousands of others may have died during the arduous journey, said officials. Trafficking of Lankan refugees who desperately seek better living conditions overseas continues unabated along the southern shores of India. “Anyone who arrives by boat and who does not engage Australia’s obligations, can and will be returned to their country of origin ,” said Holly.
Senior diplomats from the consulate said efforts were being taken to deter people from indulging in human trafficking . They requested refugees not to get cheated by people who make false promises. “These people smugglers can be very persuasive, but the truth is that they would not care about the refugees once their payment has been settled,” said Australian immigration officer Jose Alvarez. The journey to Australia by ferry would take 20 days if the weather conditions are favourable, but the boats in which the refugees are sent are neither seaworthy nor do they have enough supplies and fuel that would last the journey.
As for the ones that make it till the end of the journey, the boats often abandon them in Christmas Island where they are stranded for hours on end. “Thousands have lost their lives at sea while undertaking this dangerous journey and we often come to know about it only when their relatives contact us or the Red Cross with a missing report,” added Alvarez.
Commenting on the trend, Bernard Sami, a Loyola College professor, who studies migration , said, “These refugees do not understand the gravity of the situation and blindly risk their lives. “Australian border protection official Chris Waters warned that the government can transfer people to offshore islands like Nauru and Papua New Guinea, where they could face a wait of up to five years before their claims are processed. “Most of them would never see Australia,” said Waters