Boat used to ferry Sri Lankan refugees seized in India

SL-Boat-FoundAn abandoned mechanized boat, believed to have been used by people smugglers to illegally ferry Sri Lankan refugees to Australia, was reportedly seized by ‘Q’ Branch CID police off the Muttom Coast in Kanyakumari District in India, the New Indian Express reported.

The boat was seized after the police had rounded up a few Sri Lankan refugees who had paid for the passage and had returned recently after encountering coastal patrol boats blocking their route, police sources said. The boat, said to be around 75 feet in length, had been stranded at Old Harbour in Muttom. It had been registered in Kerala but had been painted over by the smugglers with a fake registration number.

The police had learned that nine refugees from the Vellore Melmonavoor Refugee Camp had been missing since June 19. The nine persons returned on June 23, and were questioned by Q Branch sleuths. During the course of their interrogation, it was learned that one of the four men arrested by the department recently in Pollachi, along with a few other “agents,” had received money from the nine refugees and had promised to ferry them to Australia.

The people smugglers had planned to ferry the nine refugees from Kanyakumari, but were forced to turn back after encountering coastal security, just a few nautical miles off the Kanyakumari Coast.

Selvaganesh, one of the headmen at the Melmonavoor Refugee Camp told Express that two members of the camp had been taken to Nagercoil and Kanyakumari by the police, who wanted the men to pinpoint the exact location where the agents had launched the illegal ferry from. “They are now returning back to the camp as they had shown the boat to the Vellore Q branch officials,” he said. Selvaganesh told Express that the refugees had paid the agents Rs 90,000 per head for the dangerous trip across the Indian Ocean.

Top Q-Branch officials however said that the rates vary depending on the agent. “They don’t have any fixed rates (to ferry the refugees). Instead, they make their demands based on what they think the families can afford and also based on the age and health of the people they are smuggling. For instance, in Pollachi, one person had paid Rs 10,000, while another had paid around Rs 1 lakh,” said the source.

Officials also said that many Sri Lankan refugees who are found by the coast guard in Australia are sent to “processing” centers in the islands of Nauru and Papua New Guinea. “These migrants are held for very long periods of internment at these camps. The agents do not tell the refugees about these dangers. So, if caught, the agents will be booked for cheating, among other offenses,” the official added.

Q Branch SP, S Maheshwaran, speaking to Express, said that the checks were part of routine procedure. “Some disused or abandoned boats have been checked. They have not been seized and we have not registered a case,” he said. (Colombo Gazette)