Stop the surge

- www.ft.lk

The news that two Sri Lankans have been arrested in India for accepting money to smuggle people to Australia together with a surge in the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers reaching that country by boat has pushed this sensitive topic into the limelight once again.

It was reported over the past three weeks that asylum seeker numbers have trebled, hitting the same digits as in 2009. Already, over the first half of 2012, 1,346 asylum seekers claiming to have come from Sri Lanka have arrived in Australian territory, more than six times the 211 ‘irregular maritime arrivals’ in all of last year.
Nearly half of all this year’s arrivals have come in the past three weeks. Department of Immigration figures provided showed the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers for the calendar year was 708. Previously, the number of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia by boat peaked at 736 in 2009, the year Government forces ended the country’s 27-year civil war. In 2010, 536 Sri Lankans arrived by boat.
The majority leave from Sri Lanka, but an increasing number are coming via southern India, where tens of thousands of Tamils live in refugee camps, and an established network of people smugglers operates. The rush of asylum seekers attempting the dangerous crossing of the Indian Ocean shows no sign of abating and this is worrying indeed.
For the past three years, Sri Lanka’s economic and social situation has increased significantly. Many people are grateful for the security this has brought, for not only can families now know that their loved ones will not be killed in bomb blasts, but also that economic opportunities are increasing. It would seem that this is an improving situation, if not an ideal one. But as the arrest of over 100 asylum seekers proved last month and again a few days ago, the problem remains.
It is therefore clear that the Government as well as all other stakeholders need to combine and find an effective and multi-faceted method to help people not be fooled into skipping the country for wrongful reasons. While there has been progress in working with countries such as Australia to reduce the number of asylum seekers, it is clear from recent events that the work is far from over.
The fact that Sri Lanka needs to tighten its human smuggling and asylum seeker legislations is an obvious point. Unscrupulous people who dupe others into parting with their savings on false promises of a plentiful life need to be punished severely. Yet at the same time there must be economic opportunities made available to them so that their reasons for leaving are no longer valid.
Awareness of the danger could be one aspect that needs to be driven home, but the ordeal they will face if they reach their destination must be made known to them as well. Perhaps the most important point is that they must be provided with security and the assurance that law and order will protect them, thus allowing them to be productive citizens in their own country. For many who were on the boat, it is already too late.

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