The Australian Border Force Cutter (ABFC) – Ocean Shield, carrying 46 illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka, arrived at the Port of Colombo yesterday morning. The group of illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka was held by the Australian Border Force on July 21, 2022 at Australia’s Maritime Border, while they were attempting to illegally migrate to Australia via sea.
The Sri Lankan Navy, partnering with other stakeholders who use the Indian Ocean Region conducts regular patrols and operations to prevent human smuggling to foreign countries via sea routes. As a result of this constant surveillance, the 46 individuals from Sri Lanka were apprehended by the Australian Border Force at Australia’s Maritime Border, when they were attempting to illegally migrate to Australia via sea.
This also happened to be the first instance where a group of illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka was brought back to the island onboard an Australian Border Force ship.
Reportedly, the group of illegal immigrants set off the sea voyage from Valaichchenai, Batticaloa on July 6, 2022 in a multi day fishing trawler. Among the apprehended individuals are residents of Valaichchenai, Batticaloa, Pasikuda, Ampara, Bibila and Muthur, aged between 17 and 49 years. The Australian Border Force handed over the group to the Office of Immigration and Emigration Department at Colombo Port, through the Sri Lanka Navy.
Regional Director for South Asia of Australian Border Force Commander Chris Waters said that the Australian Government highly valued the relationship with Sri Lankan partners in combating people smuggling and said that the relationship is considered the gold standard in this endeavour.
He also went on to mention that Australian authorities have returned 183 Sri Lankan Nationals, including this group of illegal immigrants, attempting to illegally migrate to Australia since the month of May 2022. Adding further, he mentioned that all maritime people smuggling vessels destined to Australia since October 2013 had been returned to Sri Lanka. With the election of the new Australian government there was no change in the policy in relation to unauthorized maritime people smuggling arrivals, he further opined.
Speaking on the occasion, Commander Western Naval Area Commander Western Naval Area Rear Admiral Dammika Kumara said the Sri Lanka Navy and the Sri Lanka Coast Guard made a valiant effort to thwart illegal immigration to Australia by boats, in close coordination with the Australian Border Force. Therefore, he emphasized the public that there was no room for illegal migration to Australia by sea and urged people not to engage in such sea voyages, getting caught in the tricks of people smugglers.
He said that the Sri Lanka Navy would take the necessary steps to completely curb illegal migration to foreign countries and apprehend those engaged in such efforts and ensure their safe return.
Dedicated operations mounted by the Sri Lanka Navy until August 5 this year have so far helped apprehend 1024 individuals attempting to illegally migrate to foreign countries by sea. Similarly, the Australian Border Force has nabbed 183 illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka to Australia and deported them back home.
High Commissioner designate of Australia in Sri Lanka Paul Stephens, Defence Adviser at the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka Captain Ian Cain and a group of senior officers from the Navy Headquarters and Western Naval Command were present on this occasion.