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* Boat arrivals from Sri Lanka to Australia declining, asylum seekers getting the message
Tue, Dec 18, 2012, 12:57 am SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

Dec 17, Colombo: More and more Sri Lankans are getting the message that there is no prospect for asylum in Australia as indicated by the declining number of boat arrivals, an Australian minister has pointed out.

In an interview to media Monday, Chris Bowen Minister for Immigration and Citizenship said a big reduction in the number of people arriving from Sri Lanka is seen in recent weeks.

"It's been 13 days or so since we had a boat from Sri Lanka," Bowen said.

According to reports, only 43 people arrived by boat from Sri Lanka in December, compared to 1,228 in November and 1,240 in October.

"We had a big surge of people coming from Sri Lanka. Hence, we took the decision to turn people around very swiftly where we've made an assessment that they're economic refugees - turn them around, put them on a plane and get them back to Sri Lanka very swiftly," the Minister explained.

Returning people back sends a very powerful message to the others who are planning to migrate, he pointed out.

Responding to the queries Bowen said traditionally it has been Tamil people who arrived in Australia seeking asylum but recently it is not the case as more and more Sinhalese are also arriving.

"But whether the people are Singhalese or Tamil, where there is a very clear indication that this is economic migration, not people with whom our international obligations are exercised, then we've taken the decision to return them," he said.

Australia has returned 682 Sri Lankans involuntarily and another 100 or so have returned voluntarily.

"This is historically a very large number of people who we've returned in a short period of time," Bowen noted.

Bowen admitted that dealing with the boat arrivals is an ongoing challenge since people smugglers will find new ways to dupe people eager to migrate but the policy implemented by the Australian authorities has been effective.

He stressed that authorities are careful not to return someone who is genuinely fleeing persecution and also not to risk lives of Sri Lankans as well as Australian sailors in high seas by turning the boats around.

Bowen explained that a quick assessment is done on the asylum seekers in Australia on Christmas Island and if they found to be economic migrants and then measures are taken to return them.

"I think that is a very effective way of getting rid of that economic migration," Bowen added.

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