At least 1,349 Sri Lankans, including women and children have been taken in for questioning by the Sri Lanka Navy and the Australian Coastguard while attempting to leave Sri Lanka or enter Australian territory illegally from the beginning of this year, a senior Navy official said yesterday.
The Navy along with the Police had taken in for questioning 1,239 people including 112 women and 130 children from the North-Eastern, North-Western, Western and Eastern coastlines during this period, Naval spokesperson Captain Indika de Silva told the Sunday Observer.
The Australian authorities had rounded up some 200 illegal Sri Lankan immigrants in that country’s territorial waters, Captain de Silva said. In the single largest detection by the Australian authorities, 44 Sri Lankans were taken in for questioning while illegally attempting to reach that country’s shores. The group was later brought to Colombo on an Australian vessel in the first week of last month.
“Earlier the Australian authorities used aircraft to send back the illegal migrants, but this time, however, they used a ship for this purpose,” Captain de Silva said. He said that local human traffickers have begun to cleverly shift their coastline bases to avoid detection. Currently they are known to operate from the North-Eastern coast of Batticaloa, he said.
In the most recent detection, 26 people were rounded up at a beach head in Veththalakerni in the North-East on Thursday night.
They were rounded up by a Naval patrol while being loaded on to a boat, Captain de Silva said.
He called upon the public to avoid being duped by unscrupulous human traffickers since there is no safe route to Australia or to any other foreign destination through illegal channels.
The Navy has also stepped up its patrols and surveillance in the coastal areas and is also sharing information with foreign intelligence agencies.