Sri Lanka halts migrant boat heading to Australia

The Sri Lankan navy on Sunday intercepted a boat carrying 40 people headed for Australia, as authorities in Colombo crack down on illegal migration rackets.

Last Updated: Sep 12, 2011, 00:35 AM IST

Colombo: The Sri Lankan navy on Sunday
intercepted a boat carrying 40 people headed for Australia, as
authorities in Colombo crack down on illegal migration
rackets.

People smugglers in Sri Lanka charge about USD 5,000 for
a risky, one-way journey to Australia, but the navy has
stepped up patrols to stop migrants illegally leaving the
island`s shores.

"Those arrested are all Sri Lankans, who had set off on
their journey in a fishing vessel from Negambo town" just
north of Colombo, navy spokesman Commander Kosala
Warnakulasuriya told a news agency.

Boats from Sri Lanka are believed to take around three
weeks to travel to Australia, although some migrants travel by
air to Indonesia and then take rickety wooden vessels to the
Australian coast.

Illegal migration is a thorny political issue in
Australia, where the High Court last month banned a government
plan to send 800 asylum-seekers to Malaysia.

Canberra had hoped the arrangement, under which it agreed
to resettle 4,000 of Malaysia`s registered refugees, would
deter asylum-seekers from risking their lives on the perilous
boat journeys to Australia.

PTI