Coastal security agencies have enhanced vigil along the south-eastern seaboard to curb clandestine ferrying of refugees to Australia and other countries.

Thursday night’s refugee boat tragedy off the Christmas Islands in Australia has further emphasised the need for strengthening surveillance mechanism as the Tamil Nadu/Kerala coast is prone to such unlawful migration. In the last three years, security agencies have intercepted at least 20 boats hired to ferry Sri Lankan Tamil refugees to Australia, police sources said on Saturday.

The Kerala police intercepted a group of Sri Lankan Tamils, including 28 passport holders, trying to reach Australia with the help of clandestine boat operators a couple of days ago at Kollam, causing concern among law-enforcing agencies in Tamil Nadu as the State has thousands of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, both registered and unregistered, living in different districts.

“They have made several attempts in the past to go to Australia. The clandestine boat operators charge them heavily…sometimes it is Rs.1 lakh per person for the risky ferry to Christmas Islands. Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are lodged in several camps across the State and there is not much of restriction on their movements. They are free to venture out for work. Many turn up to collect the dole once a month and their whereabouts are not known after that,” a senior police officer said.

Though a general alert remains after the 26/11 incident, surveillance could not be exhaustive in view of the vast and porous coast. However, the Coastal Security Group (CSG) and other agencies have in place a strong intelligence mechanism to prevent any unlawful arrival/departure along the 1,076-km long coast, he said.

Additional Director-General of Police (CSG) C. Sylendra Babu said that the force had a strong network of Village Vigilance Committees in 591 coastal hamlets that remained in constant touch. “We have enhanced surveillance along the territorial waters and the shoreline. CSG personnel were sensitised to the issue of refugee migrations. Fishermen and the general public also alert us on our toll-free number ‘1093’ in case they came across any unusual activity.”

Inspector-General and Commander of Coast Guard (Region East) Satya Prakash Sharma said the personnel aboard patrol ships were instructed to intercept any suspicious movement of people in small or big boats. “They will verify the credentials and alert the local police in case there is suspicion of human trafficking.”

Superintendent of Police, ‘Q’ Branch CID, G. Sampath Kumar, said the current season was unsafe for any boat movement in the Bay of Bengal. “We are trying to create awareness among the refugees on the dangers of moving to Australia or other countries by illegal means. Since they have friends or relatives in countries such as France, United Kingdom and Australia, the tendency to migrate for better living remains.”