Sri Lanka sees more people seeking risky boat journey to Australia despite deterrents


ECONOMYNEXT – Despite the latest Vessels Monitoring System (VMS) and may deterrents to prevent people using boats to migrate from Sri Lanka without proper approvals, the island nation has seen an increasing number of people leaving the country using multi-day fishing boats, officials say.

Security forces arrested more than 100 people trying to leave crisis-hit Sri Lanka in the past seven days, mostly targeting Australia, officials said, as millions of the island nation’s citizens are trying to evade the worst conditions of the ongoing economic crisis.

Sri Lanka is facing its worst economic crisis though the government has said the crisis has yet to hit the bottom amid a looming food shortage and expected job losses for millions of self employed people and daily wage earners along with significant portion of middle income earners falling into lower income category.

“People are already suffering the worst crisis in their lives. When they realize that the worst is yet to come, it is obvious that they will seek better options and going some other country via fishing boats is nothing new,” a migration expert who asked not to be named told Economy Next.

“Thousands are trying to migrate legally. But these boat people do not have the awareness and money to seek legal migration.”

Australian government has at least twice returned groups of people who went in boats in the last two months, government officials have said.

With the latest numbers, more than  480 people have been nabbed by the navy and elite police when attempting to leave the country via boats without valid visas and approval.

A statement issued by Sri Lanka Navy said, around 136 people have been arrested around the country,
for attempted illegal migration since June 23.

Navy said, a local multi-day fishing trawler was taken into custody with 35 individuals, suspected to be on an “illegal migration attempt” via sea, during a search operation carried out in the Western seas of the island on 23rd June 2022.

Another local multi-day fishing trawler with 47 persons was seized on June 27 off Western coastal town of Negombo, while on the same day, a second local multi-day fishing trawler with 54 individuals was arrested in the Eastern sea.

According to the statements issued by the Navy, all three incidents “were illegal migration attempt to
Australia” via sea.

So far Navy has arrested more than 480 during the past May and June months.

People Across Sri Lanka

Majority of the arrested people have been from Sri Lanka’s coastal area of Trincomalee, Mannar, Batticaloa, Negombo, Kalpitiya, Nuwara Eliya, Mullaitivu, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Wennappuwa, Nattandiya and Chilaw areas.

In Mid-June, Australia’s Minister of Home Affairs Clare O’Neil in her first overseas met Sri
Lanka’s Foreign Minister G L Pieris and discussed containing boat people, government officials have said.

Related – Australia leans on Sri Lanka to contain boat people as currency crisis worsens

A Fisheries Monitoring Centre with Vessel Monitoring System (VMD) was opened in Colombo during the visit of Australian minister, in order to monitor over 4000 multi-day fishing vessels of Sri Lanka.

The Centre was aimed at assisting early identification of illegal fisheries practices and irregular movements intended for transnational crimes, including people smuggling.

“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 said in a statement.

In a joint statement released by both countries said the both governments were successful in stopping all the vessels that tried to smuggle people in the recent months.

“I want to reiterate my message to those people who might consider a boat voyage to Australia is
simple: Don’t do it. You will not get what you paid for, and you will be worse off. You have zero chance
of living and working in Australia without a valid visa&quot,” O’Neil said.

People going via boats pay millions of rupees to their agents and sometimes they sell most of their valuable assets to raise the funds to pay exploiting agents, relatives of the people who tried to leave Sri Lanka via boats have told Economy Next.

Related – Sri Lanka sees more boat people events as economic crisis worsens (Colombo/ July 1/2022)

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