Lankans transferred to Christmas Island

A group of 88 Sri Lankans who had managed to reach Australia by boat on Monday have been trasnfered to Christmas Island, The Australian newspaper reported.

Immigration authorities said the 88 Sri Lankans offloaded at Christmas Island yesterday were the latest in recent months to embark on the perilous boat trip of more than 3000km from Sri Lanka to the Australian territory of Christmas Island.

The number of Sri Lankans seeking asylum by boat in Australia so far this year is already more than double last year’s total; since January 1, 586 Sri Lankans have reached Christmas Island. Last year, there were 211.

The boatload of mostly young men taken ashore at Christmas Island yesterday was first spotted in the Indian Ocean by a Customs and Border Protection Dash 8 surveillance aircraft. The boat was not sinking and the men were not in distress, and they continued on their way to the island in their blue-and-white wooden fishing boat. It was fitted with a wheelhouse and a large gas bottle.

The Australian has been told the boat trip from Sri Lanka to Christmas Island can take about 30 days, while the journey from Indonesia to the Australian territory can be as short as 30 hours if the boat is good and the sea calm.

The number of Sri Lankans seeking asylum in Australia by boat in recent years peaked at 736 in 2009. In 2010, it fell to 536 and last year to a little more than 200.

In those years, some Sri Lankans came on fishing vessels direct from their own country and paid people in Sri Lanka to arrange their passage. But others went to Indonesia first and were put on boats with asylum-seekers from other countries, such as Afghanistan and Iran, for the much shorter boat trip, The Australian newspaper reported.