Colombo: Sri Lanka and Australia are in talks to finalise a policy on boat people on the sidelines of the Commonwealth leaders’ summit, an official said here Saturday.
In response to questions, Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella acknowledged that the issue was being discussed and an agreement will centre on the navies of the two countries working together to stem illegal migration to Australia.
“Discussions are ongoing but we cannot comment about it before the details are finalised. There are talks about the naval forces of the two countries working together,” Xinhua quoted Rambukwella as saying.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott is expected to soon unveil a new deal with Sri Lanka on stopping asylum seekers’ boats.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop is understood to have discussed the new strategy with her Sri Lankan counterpart when she was attending a meeting of Commonwealth foreign ministers in Colombo this week.
Abbott’s coalition won the recent elections promising a policy of intercepting all identified asylum seeker vessels travelling from Sri Lanka outside the Australian sea border and arranging for the immediate return of all passengers.
The key to the policy is ensuring what has been described as “safe transfer arrangements” involving the Sri Lankan government.
Abbott told reporters in Colombo Friday that Australia had “good and close cooperation” with the Sri Lankan government and navy.
“I’ll be thanking the Sri Lankans for the cooperation which they have extended to us on this important issue and I will have more to say about this in the next day or so,” Abbott said.
Australia has returned nearly 1,400 Sri Lankan boat people since August 2012.
Under new rules announced on July 19, anyone, including a person from Sri Lanka, who arrives in Australia by boat without a visa no longer has the chance to settle in Australia.
The number of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka has increased despite the end of a three-decade war in 2009, pushing the Australian government to take tough measures to prevent them from reaching that country.
At least another 1,500 have been arrested by the navy while attempting to leave Sri Lanka by boat.
The Australian government is working closely with the Sri Lankan navy to monitor and stop boat people from the South Asian island country and awareness programmes have been implemented to discourage locals from attempting to migrate illegally.