Illegal asylum seekers paid to leave the country – Thisara Samarasinghe
June 13, 2012 08:22 am
Residents of Australia’s remote Cocos Islands say an upsurge in asylum seeker arrivals is putting a strain on their community’s resources.
135 asylum seekers have arrived there in the last four weeks. That’s enough to more than double the number of people on the main island.
Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canberra says his country is doing everything it can to stop the boats but that it’s a tough battle because people smugglers are paying people to take the journey.
Tamil groups in Australia say that’s a ridiculous proposition.
Ashley Hall has our report.
ASHLEY HALL: The small cluster of islands known as Cocos Islands sit about 1000 kilometres west of Christmas Island. And, aside from their natural beauty, what’s particularly attractive about these islands, to people smugglers at least, is their proximity to Sri Lanka.
They’re a little less than halfway between Sri Lanka and the Australian mainland and in the past four weeks, residents have seen a big surge in the number of asylum seeker boats landing there.
There’ve been three boats, carrying 135 asylum seekers, since the middle of May.
JOHN CLUNIES-ROSS: It’s pretty hard to swallow. The SES have been rather over-utilised because they’re all volunteers, taking over the Cocos Club, which means that the main social facility of the island has been, you know, taken away for a number of days to last month.
It’s interfering with work schedules and all sorts of stuff.
ASHLEY HALL: John Clunies-Ross is the president of the Cocos Club, a one-time cyclone shelter that’s used as a community pub, when it’s not housing asylum seekers.
And he says while most of the 80 locals are happy to welcome asylum seekers ashore, there are concerns about the community’s limited food supply.
JOHN CLUNIES-ROSS: We carry a little bit of extra stock for food and stuff like that, but then to lob on, you know, 30 or 40 per cent extra people on this island, there’ll be shortages, don’t worry about that.
ASHLEY HALL: What sort of things do you often run short of?
JOHN CLUNIES-ROSS: Fruit, veg, bread, butter, you know, just the normal stuff.
ASHLEY HALL: But John Clunies-Ross says it makes sense for people smugglers from Sri Lanka to target Cocos Islands as an entry point to Australia.
JOHN CLUNIES-ROSS: We’re a day’s less sailing to get to Christmas Island, we’re a better port than Christmas Island. The only problem is we don’t have the infrastructure to deal with these guys.
ASHLEY HALL: The latest group of 32 people were rescued on Saturday when their boat ran aground on a Cocos Island shoreline.
And Sri Lanka’s high commissioner to Canberra, Thisara Samarasinghe, says in the past few weeks, security services in Sri Lanka have stopped another boat from leaving, this one with 113 people on board.
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: Sri Lanka is continuously focusing on preventing Sri Lankans leaving Sri Lankan shores, headed for either to New Zealand or Australia. And this has been going on for about two and a half years and we have been successful in preventing any boat leaving Sri Lanka.
ASHLEY HALL: Admiral Samarasinghe says the people smuggling boats stopped by Sri Lankan authorities are filled with people from all walks of life who’ve been convinced to leave the country by outside groups.
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: They were economic concerns and they have been paid.
ASHLEY HALL: They’ve been paid?
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: Yeah in the sense they have not paid for the moment and we do not know the exact arrangements and the…
ASHLEY HALL: But you have evidence that people were paid to get on a vessel and travel to Australia and seek asylum?
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: They have evidence they have not paid, the racketeers, these human smugglers, these international racket band, they do this for various reasons.
ASHLEY HALL: It’s a proposition that Victor Rajakulendran finds laughable. He’s the secretary of the Australasian Association of Tamil Associations.
VICTOR RAJAKULENDRAN: Who is going to pay for someone whom they don’t know to get them out of the country?
ASHLEY HALL: So it’s possible that relatives of people left in, still in Sri Lanka, might be mustering the money and sending it back and in a sense that would be paying them to take the journey.
Of course, if the people there can’t pay the money, you know, and if they have to flee for their lives, how else they could get the money if there are relatives? If there are relatives they will beg them to send some money.
ASHLEY HALL: The High Commissioner also says that things are looking up in Sri Lanka, that there are, unemployment is on the way down, the economy is improving, there’s security and safety there now and that the war has been over for three years. So there’s no reason why people would want to leave Sri Lanka.
How do you respond to those comments?
VICTOR RAJAKULENDRAN: Yeah for economic reason people don’t have to flee. That’s the proof. He himself has given the reason why these people are fleeing. So if there are no economic problems, why people are fleeing for their life? Because their life is threatened there.
ASHLEY HALL: Sri Lanka’s civil war ended in 2009. Both sides deny the accusations of terrorism they level at each other.
ELEANOR HALL: Ashley Hall reporting.