The Kochi police rescued 37 Sri Lankan Tamil refugees — 28 from Kothamangalam and nine from Thadiyittaparambu — brought in from different refugee camps in Tamil Nadu by agents on the promise of being taken to Australia.

Police sources said they were staying in a rented house. The refugees, mostly from Mandapam camp in Tamil Nadu, had come in batches.

Some arrived nearly a week ago and some a couple of days back. The refugees included four women and four children.

The agents had promised to take them to Australia in a fishing boat. Five Sri Lankan agents — Nathan, Guru, David, Vadanan and Selvan — were also taken into custody by the Kothamangalam police. It was learnt that they had demanded between Rs. 2 and 4 lakh from these refugees.

Four others nabbed

The police also took into custody Kuriakose, Geo, Shibu and Bibesh, who helped the agents find a place to put up the refugees, said Harshita Attaluri, Superintendent of Police, Ernakulam (Rural). The fishing boat, named Aranimol, in which the refugees were to be boarded, has also been seized. They were about to set sail from Munambam fishing harbour. Police sources said the chances of them making it to Australia were little and they were most likely being cheated by the agents.

Intelligence officials, who talked to those who were rescued, said they posed no security threat and in all probability were trying desperately to get out of their present conditions. “Decision on the status of those rescued will be taken on Tuesday,” said Ms. Attaluri.

The police had stopped 16 Sri Lankan refugees from being cheated in a similar manner in June last.

The State Police had then observed that without the national registration grid for fishing vessels, it would be difficult to check the movement of people such as these along the State's coast.

“We have almost completed the collection of data regarding the fishing boats registered with our State [Kerala]. The registration of fishing vessels and fishermen data will secure the coasts from such activities. At present, our coastal population is much alert and they duly pass on information about movement of strangers in their locality,” Jacob Punnoose, State Police Chief, told The Hindu.

It has been pointed out that fishing boats, mostly from Tamil Nadu towns such as Kolachel, operated along the State coast providing ample cover for illegal immigrants. They would be taken out in smaller boats, or sea-faring fishing vessels to uninhabited islands near island countries such as Indonesia.

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