The Q-Branch of the Tamil Nadu Police busted an attempt by Sri Lankan refugees to flee to Australia. They secured forty-nine Sri Lankan refugees from various camps in Velankanni on Friday while they were trying to make an illegal voyage to the continent.

Four women, six girls and four boys also form part of the party. A woman, six months pregnant, and a boy under five included. Of the 35 men, five were non-camp refugees.

In a closely guarded operation in the small hours, the Q Branch sleuths based on intelligence inputs, rounded up the 49 persons in Velankanni.

David (45), an Indian Tamil from Keezhakothagai, and Dharmayan alias Dharman (52), a non-camp refugee from Chennai, had acted as agents.

According to a Q Branch officer, the refugees had agreed upon payment on touching the Australian shores.

The refugees had come from various camps that include Subramaniyapuram (Tirunelveli), Tiruvadavur (Madurai), K. Pudupatti (Dindigul), Mandapam (Rameswaram), Cheyyar (Tiruvannamalai), Palaranaikattu and Wallajah (Vellore), Pavalathattu (Salem), Perambalur, Pedhar (Mettupalayam).

They had arrived here in batches from their respective camps on Thursday, hoping for an opportune moment to get into a boat from the shore.

Speaking to The Hindu on condition of anonymity, an official said it was likely there were more refugees scattered around and may have left the town following the clampdown.

The refugees were housed in a wedding hall for the whole of Friday, and the media was refused access to them. Late on Friday evening, 32 men were to be taken to the Judicial Magistrate’s court in Mayiladuturai for remand on Friday night. The remaining refugees are proposed to be sent back to their respective camps on Saturday.

This is third such aborted bid of refugees seeking a getaway through spurious agents from Nagapattinam. In September last, 65 such refugees stranded off Velankanni coast were brought to safety. In April this year, 120 refugees were secured by the Coast Guard, when one of the fellow refugees gave away the plan few nautical miles into the sea, by alerting the Coast Guard.

Earlier, an abandoned boat with hastily strewn bags containing clothes and food supplies was found along Keechankuppam.

The incident highlights the fact that refugees are still keen on attempts to seek safe haven in Australia, even though the country has repeatedly warned them that they would not get refuge there.

Australia has entered into an agreement with Papua New Guinea (PNG) under which such asylum-seekers landing by boat would be sent to the PNG for assessment.

If they were found to be genuine refugees, they would be settled there and there would be no option of reaching the Australian soil.

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