Australia on Tuesday warned asylum-seekers against trying to enter its territory by illegal means, as it cannot guarantee immigration to such entrants.
To create awareness and deter people from undertaking dangerous voyages by sea, the government was committed to breaking the people-smuggling trade, Australia’s Consul-General to South India, David Holly, told reporters here.
“Anyone who arrives by boat and who does not engage Australia’s obligations, including Sri Lankan nationals residing in India, will be returned to their country of origin. Last year, 1,177 Sri Lankan refugees, including women and children, were sent back home,” he said.
According to Mr. Holly, each year about 20,000 refugees from different parts of the world, especially Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran tried to enter Australian territory by reaching Christmas Island by boats. They got stranded in the mid-sea due to lack of water, fuel and food.
After duping the Indonesian authorities, operators would proceed towards Christmas Island, which belongs to Australia and is located between Australia and Indonesia. To attract the attention of the Australian authorities, the boat would be toppled a short distance away from the shore so that they could be rescued. This often resulted in loss of lives in great numbers.
Due to strict vigil maintained by the State police, Sri Lankan refugees have started sailing from Kochi and Mangalore. The Tamil Nadu Police had foiled several attempts in the recent past. A vessel was intercepted in mid-sea near Indonesia after 55 days of sailing, Mr. Holly said.
Asked why smugglers preferred Christmas Island, he said refugees were made to believe that it was an easy way to enter Australia from there and those who made it led a comfortable life. But it was not so. Also, it takes just two days to reach Australia from Christmas Island.
Australia’s Counsellor for Customs and Border Protection, Chris Waters, said Christmas Island was small and could accommodate only 1,000 people. Currently, it was used as regional processing centre for refugees.
“When people arrive in Australia without authorisation, the reasons for it are assessed by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Such people are transferred to the Pacific nation of Nauru and Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. They have to wait up to five years before their claims are processed and are not allowed to work during this period. Most of them will never see Australia,” said Mr. Waters.
According to him, last August, the Australian government increased the annual intake under its refugees programme from 13,750 to 20,000 on humanitarian grounds. However, it was not meant for those coming by boats and those who sought economic benefits.
Annually 1,90,000 people entered Australia through regular channels, of which 60 per cent were skilled persons and the rest to join their families. India was the second largest provider of skilled workers. Majority of the students came from India, he said. Stuart Campbell, Australia’s Deputy Consul General for South India said, “We want to send a powerful message to refugees. There is no visa on arrival, there is no speedy outcome and there is no special treatment. We are talking to source country and transit country to stem the tide of body smuggling.”