Asylum seeker numbers rising fast

A SURGE in the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat over the past three weeks – treble the number that arrived over all of last year – has seen arrival numbers surpass 2009, when the country was gripped by brutal civil war.
Nanjing Night Net

Already, over the first half of this year, 1346 asylum seekers claiming to have come from Sri Lanka have arrived in Australian territory, more than six times the 211 irregular maritime arrivals in all of last year.

And nearly half of all this year’s arrivals have come in the last three weeks. Department of Immigration figures provided to the Herald on June 12 said the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers for the calendar year was 708.

Previously, the number of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia by boat peaked at 736 in 2009, the year government forces ended the country’s 27-year civil war in a ferocious crackdown.

In 2010, 536 Sri Lankans arrived by boat claiming asylum.

Most of the Sri Lankan arrivals are Tamils, an ethnic minority concentrated in the north of the country.

The majority leave directly from Sri Lanka, but an increasing number are coming via southern India, where tens of thousands of Tamils live in refugee camps, and an established network of people smugglers operates.

In recent weeks, too, Pakistani and Afghan asylum seekers have been caught in Sri Lanka, using it as a transit country to come to Australia.

And the rush of asylum seekers attempting the dangerous eastward crossing of the Indian Ocean shows no sign of dimming.

Three more groups of Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been arrested over the past four days trying to flee the country for Australia.

Before dawn on Monday morning, six people were arrested in Kalkudah, on Sri Lanka’s west coast. They were waiting to board a boat bound for Australia. Police allege the suspects, aged between 18 and 34, were from the nearby Valachchenai area. They were expected to appear in court overnight Australia time.

On Sunday, five men, mostly from the Tamil-dominated north of Sri Lanka, were arrested by police in Kataragama, in the island’s far south-east.

Police were tipped off that the group was staying at a local hostel while they waited on a promised boat. They told police they were waiting for their “travel agent” who would take them to Australia.

Meanwhile, on Friday, the Sri Lankan Navy reported that its ships stopped a multiday fishing trawler bound for Australia off the south-western coast of the island, near Negombo.

Only nine people were on board at the time, but, the Navy said, the boat was planning to pick up more passengers from other places.

The trawler was loaded with food, drinking water, gas bottles and personal items of those on board.

The nine arrested, and their trawler, were handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department.

Communications Director for Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Ministry, Sarath Dissanayake said the Sri Lankan and Australian governments were in regular communication over the increasing number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers. “The Sri Lankan High Commission in Australia has been informed of this issue by its government. We are in constant touch with our officials there,” he told local media.

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