Australia gifts Sri Lanka boats to tackle asylum-seekers
Sydney: Australia on Sunday said it would give Sri Lanka two patrol boats to tackle people-smuggling operations in the Indian Ocean, hoping they can detect vessels before they leave the Asian nation`s waters.
The decision comes with the Tony Abbott-led government ramping up efforts to deter asylum-seekers arriving on unauthorised boats, a sensitive political issue that was a dominant factor in September elections.
While many boats make the precarious journey from Indonesia, 120 left from Sri Lanka last year for what can be a three-week voyage, according to official figures, although only 14 have been detected so far in 2013.
"Australia is providing training with the patrol boats, which will operate alongside the Sri Lankan Navy`s existing capability to intercept people-smuggling efforts originating in Sri Lankan waters," Abbott`s office said in a statement.
"Our cooperation with Sri Lanka in the region is important as it is effective.
"Sri Lanka provides strong support against people-smuggling operations and Australian agencies work closely with their Sri Lankan counterparts."
Sri Lankan police have arrested dozens of people for organising illegal boat trips to Australia, including several naval personnel in an embarrassment for Colombo which had maintained there was no senior level official collusion with the smugglers.
According to reports the patrol boats are 38-metre (125-foot) vessels which have a complement of 12 sailors. They have been a mainstay of Australian maritime surveillance since the late 1990s, but are now being phased out.
Abbott is currently in Sri Lanka for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and finalised the deal with President Mahinda Rajapakse as part of diplomatic talks.
Under Australia`s hardline asylum-seeker policies, all boat arrivals are transferred to poverty-stricken Papua New Guinea or Nauru in the Pacific for processing. Even if their asylum claims succeed, they will not be settled in Australia.
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