Aug 02 (Xinhua) COLOMBO- The interception of Australia bound boats with illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka has caused concern and caught the attention of the government of Australia, yet the perilous journeys do not seemed to be lessened or reduced.
Over 700 arrests done during last six months on information received of those preparing for the illegal Australian bound boat rides have not discouraged those would be asylum seekers journeying in multi-day fishing trawlers that load men, women and children to full capacity.
Those"boat people" seeking political asylum started in 2009, when the country's three-decade-long civil war was at its peak. The Sri Lankan government defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels who fought for a separate homeland from northern and eastern parts of the island.
The majority of asylum seekers are from the country's 7 percent minority Tamils who claimed they were being harassed and intimidated by the majority Sinhalese. This claim supported by the Tamil diaspora spread around the world and managed to win them sympathy and political asylum in Australia.
Yet with the end of war in May 2009, the story has changed and Australia has started to tackle the problem of illegal immigrants which has created a political deadlock between the Australian government and its opposition.
Despite pressure by the opposition, migrant rights advocates and human rights watchdogs, Australia deported its first Tamil asylum seeker, 30-year-old Dayan Anthony this week, creating a precedence to deport Tamils.
Sri Lanka used Dayan to both educate and warn those waiting to cross the Indian Ocean by bringing him before a media conference after 16-hour interrogation. Dayan recanted his earlier claims to Australian authorities and United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture where he had stated that he was an ex-Tamil Tiger rebel who underwent intimidation in post-war Sri Lanka.
"Don't get caught to human smugglers and lose your money. You will have to comeback from Australia in handcuffs like me," Dayan said few minutes before he was released from army custody.
"I now feel ok even though I was frightened to come to Sri Lanka for being harassed and beaten up by police. But nothing happened to me and I asked all those awaiting asylums to come back to Sri Lanka," he told media.
But Dayan's calling on Thursday has not deterred boats leaving northern and eastern coasts as the navy arrested a number of boats that left Sri Lanka in the day. "We know that though one or two are sent back, the rest would somehow manage to secure a asylum bid if we could cross the boarders,"one of the human smugglers from western coast of the country told Xinhua on condition of anonymity. "If we manage to reach Australian soil, we will be sent to the Christmas Island or some other detention center where life would not be bad and we will be able secure an asylum bid," he said.
The problem of Sri Lankan asylum seekers has created chaos in Australia as Australian media charged their government for using Dayan as an example to deter asylum seekers to please Sri Lankan allegation that there are double standards for Tamil and Sinhala asylum seekers in the country.
Deportation of Dayan came just few days after the complaint by the Sri Lankan navy over the lack of support by the Australian government and its inability to deport all Sri Lankan asylum seekers.
The Sri Lankan navy is now in a fresh battle to avert boat loads of people leaving the country.
The matter concerning the "boat people" was raised at a recent meeting between Robyn Mudie, Australian High Commissioner in Sri Lanka and Navy Commander Somathilake Dissanayake. The navy has concluded that deporting all Sri Lankan Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims will be the only way to deter people smugglers. "Deporting asylum seekers is the only viable solution to the problem,"Navy spokesman Commodore Kosala Warnakulasuriya told Xinhua. "We have asked the Australian government to send all Sri Lankans Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslims back to Sri Lanka," Warnakulasuriya said. "Cooperation to deter, prevent and prosecute people smuggling is well established between Australia and Sri Lanka. We enjoy good operational cooperation and work closely together in practical ways to address people smuggling and the incentives which lie behind this trade,"said a representative of the Australian High Commissioner in Colombo.
The two countries have signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) to solve the issue. Under the MoU, they are required to share knowledge and experience on using the law to deter, prevent and prosecute people smuggling activities.
Australia and Sri Lanka are also working with other countries in the region, particularly through the Bali Process on People Smuggling, Trafficking in Persons and related Transnational Crime, to tackle the illegal and dangerous practice of people smuggling.
"Australia is concerned that people are putting their lives at risk by undertaking boat journeys,"the High Commission stated.
While denying harassment or intimidation on failed asylum seekers, Sri Lanka is determined to take stringent action to deter migrants seeking asylum in Australia
"We would not harass those deported but we cannot take them on red carpet either," said Sri Lankan government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella.