Australia concerned by recent uptick in people smuggling activity from Sri Lanka

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Australian Home Affairs Minister, Peter Dutton, says that despite the recent lull in people-smuggling boats reaching Australian from Sri Lanka, an uptick in activity had been observes in the last month which had caused concern.

“We have seen a lull recently and we’ve just seen an uptick in activity in the last month or so which has caused us concern,” he said referring to the interception of two boats carrying Lankan asylum seekers.

“But before that we’d seen a lull in activity and I think that is because of the strong stance that Australia has taken and our close work with Sri Lanka,” the minister, who is currently on an official visit to Sri Lanka, told reporters at the Australia House in Colombo.

Mr. Dutton said he wants to send a very clear message today to people-smugglers both in Sri Lanka and across the region.

“Australia has just held our recent election and the government has been reelected. And on that basis our policy in relation to the protection and security of our borders has not and will not change.”

He said that they have been very clear and consistent in their message over a long period of time that Australia is a very generous nation. He said Australia takes a number of people through its refugee and humanitarian programme each year.

“But we will never bring in people by boat,” he emphasised.

He said people who come to Australia through its visa programme, through its refugee and humanitarian programme come by plane, they make applications through the High Commission or through the government and through the visa process.

“And those visas will be assessed on their merit and we will decide who comes to our country in those circumstances. But we will not allow people to arrive in Australia by boat,” he reiterated.

“I know that people smugglers might be telling some of those who would seek to come to Australia that the situation has changed. But it hasn’t. People smugglers have been lying to you and you must reject what they say.”

“Regardless of how much money you handover, regardless of what is promised people will never arrive by boat in Australia,” the minister said.

Mr. Dutton said that they have a very tough border protection programme and regime and policy in Australia and that will continue under the government led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

“Ultimately if you give money to a people-smuggler, you will lose that money and you will be returned back to Sri Lanka very quickly.”

Dutton is on a two-day visit to Sri Lanka and holding talks with his counterparts and other officials on measures aimed at deterring human smuggling.

His visit comes a week after Australia sent back 20 Sri Lankans who tried to enter Australia by boat and after Sri Lanka’s navy separately arrested another 41 in a boat heading to Australia.