July 17, 2012
Sri Lanka’s navy has arrested 61 would-be asylum seekers heading to Australia and seized their fishing trawler, in the third incident of its kind in just two days.
The navy intercepted the latest vessel carrying illegal immigrants off the island’s eastern coast on Monday and were escorting the boat to the naval port of Trincomalee, 260 kilometres northeast of the capital Colombo.
“This boat had 61 men heading for Australia,” a navy official said.
The latest detection came a day after 131 people were arrested in two separate incidents of trying to leave the island illegally, police said.
The number of Sri Lankans detained on charges of illegally trying to leave the country has reached more than 315 over the past week.
Australia is facing a steady influx of asylum seekers arriving by boat, many of whom use Indonesia as a transit hub, boarding leaky wooden vessels there after fleeing their homes countries.
Some 94 people are believed to have drowned after two boats sank in recent weeks.
While most boats originate in Indonesia, there has been a recent spike in attempted crossings from Sri Lanka.
Australia wants to deter boat people by transferring them to Malaysia for processing, in exchange for accepting thousands of Malaysia’s registered refugees for resettlement.
But the Gillard government has so far been unable to pass the necessary legislation through parliament.