SCOTT Morrison has lashed out at “increasingly shrill’’ critics of Sri Lanka, accusing asylum-seeker advocates of using boatpeople to pursue a political agenda of internationally isolating the once war-torn nation.
On his return from Sri Lanka yesterday, the Immigration Minister said that isolating Sri Lanka would only harm economic growth and increase the prospect of more people-smuggler boats coming to Australia
Mr Morrison said advocacy for asylum-seekers was being used as a ‘’very negative platform on Sri Lanka itself’’ to turn the nation into a pariah. “The ultimate aim of some is to isolate Sri Lanka which is not only dangerous, arrogant and indulgent but smacks of moral colonialism,’’ Mr Morrison said.
“It is offensive to suggest that people being returned to Sri Lanka, most of whom are economic refugees, face persecution. It is even more offensive to India to suggest Sri Lankans, Sinhalese or Tamils returned to India would face persecution.’’
All but a “very few’’ of the 41 asylum-seekers — 37 Sinhalese and four Tamils — returned to Sri Lanka after being seized by Australian Navy and Customs had been released from custody. Those still in custody were being questioned.
The Abbott government’s policy of intercepting boats from Sri Lanka or India outside Australian waters and returning them is being challenged in the High Court by asylum-seeker advocates. Mr Morrison said the Australian government’s policy was to treat Sri Lanka with a policy of practical engagement, which was the same policy as former Labor Foreign Minister Bob Carr.
“We raise human rights issues where there is a need, but the economic growth in Sri Lanka has affirmed our view of working constructively and supportively with Sri Lanka,’’ Mr Morrison said.
He said Sri Lanka did not deserve the torrent of abuse.
Operation Sovereign Borders commander Angus Campbell, appearing before a Senate inquiry yesterday, praised “the policy settings of both the current and former governments” for stemming the flow of boats from 48 a month last July to five in October and November.
It was decided even that small number was unsustainable and the government began towing boats back to Indonesia from mid-December. “No ventures have departed in Indonesia since early May 2014, there have been no known deaths at sea since 9 December 2013 and no deaths at all in Australia’s territorial waters since Operation Sovereign Borders began,” he told the inquiry.
Australian law enforcement had assisted the arrests of 204 suspects, including 49 alleged organisers and 34 alleged facilitators of people-smuggling, as well as the disruption of 44 ventures.
The Department of Immigration told the inquiry that between July last year and June 19, 317 detainees were returned to home countries: 245 Iranians, 27 Iraqis, 17 Lebanese, 15 Vietnamese, four Bangladeshis, three Indians, two Pakistanis, two Sri Lankans and two Sudanese. (The Australian)