Australia Funds Placement of GPS Trackers on Sri Lankan Fishing Vessels to Intercept Asylum Seekers
09:07 GMT 22.06.2022 (Updated: 17:05 GMT 22.07.2023)
‘Operation Sovereign Borders’ is an Australia policy that's been in place since 2013, which aims to intercept asylum seekers at sea, and either return them to the port of origin or transport them to an offshore detention center. This policy was deemed controversial by human rights groups that accused Canberra of “forcibly returning” the refugees.
The Australian government will fund the installations of GPS trackers on around 4,000 Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) on Sri Lankan fishing boats, Home Minister Clare O’Neil announced during her visit to Colombo on Tuesday.
An official statement from the Australian minister said that the move would enhance Sri Lanka’s capacity to “combat people smuggling” as well as check the “illegal unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing” in the region.
“Fishing vessels should only be used for fishing and not for other activity. 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,
“Just in the recent weeks, the Australian and Sri Lankan Government has detected and stopped every boat that tried to sail to another country, saving many lives at sea,” the Australian Home Minister remarked.
She also inaugurated the ‘Fisheries Monitoring Centre’ in the Sri Lankan capital city.
“The Fisheries Monitoring Centre is an important component that will enable Sri Lankan authorities to monitor the location of the vessels,” read the Australian statement.
The Australian government said that the center will assist in curbing “illicit fishing practices” and “irregular vessel movements” intended for “transnational crime”.
The announcement comes amid a surge in number of Sri Lankans fleeing the country for countries such as Australia and India as the economic crisis in the south Asian worsens amid crippling shortages of food, fuel and other essential items.
Sri Lankan Navy conceded this week that would be difficult to stop each and every asylum seeker boat leaving the Indian Ocean country. Spokesperson Captain Indika De Silva also warned that some refugees could use the situation in Australia to their “advantage”.
The Sri Lankan as well as the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) have since last month detected several boats carrying Sri Lankan asylum seekers, who often pay a hefty sum to human trafficking cartels to make the arduous sea journey on small fishing vessels.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said that ‘Operation Sovereign Borders (OSB)’ "remains in place", amid concerns expressed by opposition on the toning down of the 2013-era border security policy under the new Labor government, which came to power in May.
Australia Announces $50 Mln Aid for Sri Lanka
Canberra has also announced a 50 million AUD development package for Sri Lanka to meet its “urgent food and healthcare needs,” a statement from the country’s Foreign Ministry said on June 20, ahead of O’Neil’s visit.
“Not only do we want to help the people of Sri Lanka in its time of need, there are also deeper consequences for the region if this crisis continues,” the statement from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) said.
Out of the stipulated $50 million, Canberra has earmarked $22 million to the World Food Programme for emergency food assistance, while another $23 million has been allotted to development assistance in the ongoing financial year.
The aid package from Australia comes as Sri Lanka is negotiating a bailout package with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in order to tide over the current economic crisis, the worst in the country’s history since independence in 1948.