‘Lenient Asylum’ Pulls Sri Lankans

Lenient asylum' pulls Sri Lankans

By Paul Maley
The Australian, April 28, 2010

Australia's 'lenient' asylum policy, easy access to citizenship and generous welfare benefits are the main pull factors attracting Sri Lankan asylum-seekers, says the head of Colombo's anti-human-trafficking operation.

Prabath Aluthge, chief of Sri Lanka's National Counter Human Trafficking Resource Centre, told The Australian the recent wave of boat arrivals was driven by success stories spread by Sri Lankans who had travelled to Australia.

But as authorities intercepted another boat carrying 41 asylum-seekers near Ashmore Reef on Monday, Mr Aluthge said a crackdown by the Sri Lankan authorities and the toughening of Australia's asylum regime had led to a decline in the number of boats leaving Sri Lanka.

And Malaysian authorities announced they had stopped an Australia-bound boat carrying 75 Sri Lankans from leaving Malaysia on Friday.

In an exclusive interview, Mr Aluthge said he expected the changes in procedure, which include the suspension of processing of all new Sri Lankan asylum claims for three months, would have a deterrent effect, as would the deportation of people whose claims had been unsuccessful, a move foreshadowed by the Rudd government.

Australia was considered to be a soft option by prospective Sri Lankan boatpeople, Mr Aluthge said. 'I think you have a very lenient asylum policy,' he said. 'These people, they want to go to a country where asylum policy is very lenient, where it is easy (to obtain) citizenship, easy to get welfare benefits from the host government,' the Sri Lankan official said.

Mr Aluthge said neither Tamil nor Sinhalese Sri Lankans had any grounds for claiming asylum in Australia now the country's bloody civil war had ended.

Since 2009, almost 1000 Sri Lankans, mostly minority Tamils, have arrived in Australia by boat.

All told, they comprised about 20 per cent of the total number of boatpeople to arrive as part of the present surge.

'The successful people informed their friends about Australia – to come there and you can earn something and you can get political asylum very easily,' Mr Aluthge said. 'They motivate with this information.'

However, Mr Aluthge said there had been a decline in boats leaving Sri Lanka for Australia.

'We have an awareness campaign. There are police very alert. We have established a coast guard department,' he said.

'And . . . now the war is over, the entire navy can work with the coast guard.'

Most smuggling rings in Sri Lanka were organised out of Colombo or the Negombo region north of the capital, he said.

But the market is mostly Tamils in the northern part of the country.

Mr Aluthge said the organisers paid agents across the country to recruit passengers, sometimes even guaranteeing their debt for the journey, which could run from $5000 to $10,000.

'They sometimes mortgage their properties, sometimes they get bank guarantees,' he said.