Australia to help track Sri Lanka people-smuggling boats

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Sri Lanka and Australia on Tuesday unveiled a facility to track possible migrant boats after a surge in people-smuggling attempts from the bankrupt island nation in the past month.

The Fisheries Monitoring Centre in Colombo was opened by visiting home minister Clare O’Neil and Sri Lankan fisheries minister Douglas Devananda, the Australian High Commission said in a statement.

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“Australia is committed to supporting Sri Lanka’s efforts to strengthen its border management capacity,” the statement said.

“Australia and Sri Lanka’s close working relationship means that anyone who attempts to get into a boat and try to sail to Australia, will be detected and stopped by border authorities,” O’Neil was quoted as saying.

The move comes days after Sri Lanka’s navy stopped a fishing trawler attempting to transport dozens of migrants to Australia, the fifth such attempt to be blocked in the last month.

The boat was detected near Trincomalee on Sri Lanka’s east coast with 50 men, 11 women and three children aboard as passengers, according to the navy.

Four other boats aiming to ferry passengers to Australia have attempted to embark from Sri Lanka in the past month, with around 300 people arrested for immigration offences.

Sri Lanka has for months faced severe shortages of food, fuel and medicines – along with rampant inflation and running blackouts – after running out of foreign exchange to import essential goods.

Security officials have said the spiraling economic crisis may be encouraging unlawful emigration.

Australia’s hardline immigration stance bans anyone who arrives by boat without authorization from staying in the country permanently.

Sri Lankan fishing boats take two to three weeks to reach the nearest Australian territory, the Cocos Islands, and from there another two weeks or so to get to mainland Australia.

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