Kochi and other ports in the State are attracting Sri Lankan refugees trying to make their way to Australia. Agents bring refugees from Tamil Nadu and send them abroad on large vessels from Munambam or ports near Thiruvananthapuram or Kozhikode.
“It is risky for them to board a ship from Tamil Nadu as there is strong patrolling along the coast there. So they go from Munambam and other ports, not just in Kerala, but also Karnataka and Orissa,” said an officer from the Aluva police.
The Aluva police recently arrested 10 Sri Lankan natives, one of them a minor, who were trying to board a fishing vessel from Munambam. They were allegedly trying to procure a fishing boat.
Those arrested had been living in refugee camps in Salem, Madurai and other places in Tamil Nadu. “The group’s average age is 25. They had first reached the refugee camps between 2002 and 2006,” said the police officer.
The police are on the lookout for a Tamilian agent named Ramesh, who promised to take the refugees to Australia.
The arrested refugees told the police that they were part of a larger group that had split up to avoid detection. A day after the Aluva arrest, the Karnataka police held 88 Sri Lankan natives trying to make their way to Australia.
Three days ago, Sri Lankan coast guard officials held 66 Sri Lankans from near their waters. Those arrested had reportedly set out from Tamil Nadu along with those arrested at Aluva.
Agents take refugees from Kochi on large fishing vessels. Some of them change ships mid-sea. Others are taken to uninhabited islands near the Andaman and Nicobar Islands or Indonesia.
They may stay here for as long as a month. A straight trip to the western coast of Australia takes around 20 days. Refugees may not always make the trip successfully. They are sometimes caught by other countries and imprisoned or deported. Many also lose their lives at sea.
According to the Australian government, 35 per cent of people in their country’s immigration detention are Sri Lankan nationals.
Refugees travelling to Australia are willing to risk the chance of being arrested in the country as they may be allowed to stay on after a period of detention.