Boat people stand zero chance of success, says Aussie border control officer | Sunday Observer

Boat people stand zero chance of success, says Aussie border control officer

Major General Craig Furini
Major General Craig Furini

A top Australian border control officer was here last week to stress that Australia’s strong border protection laws remain unchanged, posing a zero chance of success for illegal immigrants, amidst a surge of people-smuggling attempts from Sri Lanka since May this year.

Commander, Joint Agency Task Force on Australia’s Operation Sovereign Borders, Major General Craig Furini said, 13 Sri Lankans who were returned two weeks ago, “Risked their life, wasted their money to end up back where they started.” Australia has returned 204 illegal immigrants from Sri Lanka since the launch of Operation Sovereign Borders in 2013, and 38 boat people who arrived in 12 boats have been sent back between May and August this year. The last batch of 13 men who returned a fortnight ago are still being investigated by law enforcement officials in Sri Lanka.

Australia considers Sri Lankan illegal immigrants as economic migrants and not as refugees. Operation Sovereign Borders is a joint effort covering several countries led by Australia to combat illegal migration and inform the vulnerable communities of the risks it involves.

Major General Furini was here to reiterate that Australia’s border protection law remains strong and no one, trying to enter Australia by boat, will be allowed to work or stay on.

“From 2008 to 2013, 50,000 people came illegally to Australia by 120 separate boat journeys. And tragically around 1,200 died at sea. We will not allow that to happen again,” the Border Protection Chief said.

“Since Operation Sovereign Borders began in 2013, we have returned 865 people to countries of departure or origin,” he added.

In June, Major General Furini came to Colombo with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to announce their ‘Zero Chance’ campaign to dissuade potential illegal immigrants. This is his second visit to Sri Lanka.

The visiting official who arrived on Monday night to renew the message, held a press conference last week in the Negombo fisheries harbour with some of its 600 odd boats in the backdrop. Some of the human smuggling boats have taken off from Negombo in the past. The Australian Major General was received by the Australian High Commissioner David Holly, Director, Naval Operations, Rear Admiral N.P.S. Attygalle and Manager, National Responsive operations for Australian Federal Police Commander Jason Williams. The visiting Australian team met their counterparts in the Sri Lankan Navy, the Coast Guard, Police, Fisheries and other security agencies to identify how the issue could be tackled effectively.

They thanked the Sri Lankan Navy for thwarting a number of illegal boat journeys this year, before they left Sri Lankan waters.

Negombo Harbour Manager Vaas said they have not found suspicious activity within the harbour in the past and therefore, it is believed the boats leave the harbour on the pretext of fishing trips and take on board potential illegal immigrants at mid sea. In response to a query from the Sunday Observer whether tough laws in Australia for legal migration was pushing people to seek illegal ways to enter the country, Australian High Commissioner David Holly said, “We take a very large number of skilled migrants annually and we take in refugees as well and there were many avenues for people to come to Australia legally.” High Commissioner Holly denied that the Australian legal system was too lenient on illegal immigrants and sending a wrong message to potential boat people.

Referring to the case of a Sri Lankan family who were allowed to stay on for a second time by an Australian court till the case was fully heard, he said the family had arrived in Australia before 2013 but no one had been allowed to settle in Australia after that. 

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