Australia returns 963 boat people to Sri Lanka

Colombo, April 4 (IANS) Twenty Sri Lankans have been returned after attempting to illegally migrate to Australia by boat, the Australian High Commission said Thursday, taking the number of returnees to 963.

Australian Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Brendan O’ Connor had announced that another group of Sri Lankan boat people were flown home from Christmas Island to Colombo, according to a mission statement.

“The group of 20 was advised of its status and that all of its members were subject to removal from Australia as none of them raised issues that engaged Australia’s international obligations. Without a valid visa they had no legal right to remain in Australia,” it added.

Since Aug 13 last year, 963 Sri Lankans have been returned to Sri Lanka — 756 of them involuntarily.

“When people arrived in Australia unauthorized, any claims they make for their reasons to travel to Australia are assessed by the Department of Immigration,” O’Connor was quoted as saying.

“If these claims are not covered by the refugee convention, they will be returned to their homeland wherever possible.

“People who pay smugglers are risking their lives and throwing their money away.”

Last year Australia began a policy of returning illegal migrants within 72 hours.

Over 1,500 people have also been arrested by Sri Lankan navy while attempting to illegally migrate by boat.

The main reason given for the high number of illegal migrants by experts is worsening economic conditions in Sri Lanka, mainly pushed by high cost of living.

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