Navy nabs asylum seekers

The navy has arrested at least 54 asylum seekers heading to Australia by boat off the coast of Weligama, the navy said.

A navy spokesman said that the group had been spotted by navy patrol boats this morning.

Among those arrested are three Sinhalese and 51 Tamils including 36 males, seven females and 11 children. Most of them are residents of Jaffna and Mullaithivu, Navy spokesman Kosala Warnakulasooriya said.

Last month the police had arrested 28 people who were attempting to go to Australia by boat from Weligama illegally to seek asylum.

The Navy had yesterday strongly reject allegations leveled against them by an Australian media report which said that some Sri Lankan Navy personnel are complicit in people smuggling operations.

The Australian media report alleged that the navy is a major player in the island’s people-smuggling operations, helping asylum seekers to leave the country in boats bound for Australia.

Sri Lanka Navy Spokesman Commander Kosala Warnakulasuriya said that allegations of naval complicity were baseless, a government statement said.

Last year the Sri Lankan navy prevented over 3,000 asylum seekers sailing to Australia although the report claims that another 6,428 made it to Australia .

Australian government has however said that although they were aware of the allegations there is no evidence to support the claims.

”There is currently no specific evidence that we are aware of to support these claims,” a spokeswoman for the Australian Minister for Home Affairs Jason Clare had said.

During his visit to Sri Lanka , Australian Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr promised AU$ 45 million aid over the next five years to assist Sri Lanka to boost the fight against people smuggling on boats from the island nation to Australia.

Under a plan announced by the Foreign Minister, Australia will provide Sri Lanka with additional surveillance and electronic equipment to expand the island’s capacity to target smuggling operations and better identify vessel departure times and locations. (Colombo Gazette)