Six fold rise in Lankans seeking asylum in Australia

Wednesday, 4 July 2012 01:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sydney Morning Herald: A SURGE in the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers reaching Australia by boat over the past three weeks – treble the number that arrived over all of last year – has lifted arrival numbers above those in 2009, when the country was gripped by brutal civil war.

Already, over the first half of 2012, 1346 asylum seekers claiming to have come from Sri Lanka have arrived in Australian territory, more than six times the 211 ‘‘irregular maritime arrivals’’ in all of last year.

And nearly half of all this year’s arrivals have come in the past three weeks. Department of Immigration figures provided to The Age on June 12 showed the number of Sri Lankan asylum seekers for the calendar year was 708.Refugees from Sri Lanka arrive for processing at Christmas island last week

Previously, the number of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia by boat peaked at 736 in 2009, the year government forces ended the country’s 27-year civil war in a ferocious crackdown. In 2010, 536 Sri Lankans arrived by boat.

Most of the Sri Lankan arrivals are Tamils, an ethnic minority concentrated in the north of the country.

The majority leave from Sri Lanka, but an increasing number are coming via southern India, where tens of thousands of Tamils live in refugee camps, and an established network of people smugglers operates.

The rush of asylum seekers attempting the dangerous crossing of the Indian Ocean shows no sign of abating. Three more groups of Sri Lankan asylum seekers have been arrested over the past four days trying to flee the country for Australia.

Before dawn yesterday six people were arrested in Kalkudah, on Sri Lanka’s west coast. They were waiting to board a boat bound for Australia.

A day earlier, five men, mostly from the north of Sri Lanka, were arrested by police in Kataragama. Police were tipped off that the group was staying at a local hostel while they waited for a promised boat.

On Friday, the Sri Lankan Navy reported its ships stopped a fishing trawler bound for Australia.