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* Australian Immigration Minister to visit Sri Lanka amid asylum seeker controversy
Sat, Jul 5, 2014, 07:43 pm SL Time, ColomboPage News Desk, Sri Lanka.

July 05, Colombo: Australia's Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison will visit Sri Lanka next week amid the controversy of Australia reportedly returning two boat loads of Sri Lankan Tamil asylum seekers in mid sea to Sri Lanka.

The Australian Minister will be in Colombo on Wednesday (July 09) for a two-day visit. He will attend a commissioning ceremony for the two former Australian Customs and Border Protection Service Bay Class patrol vessels gifted to the Sri Lankan Navy.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbot while in Sri Lanka to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting last November announced that two Bay class patrol boats will be given to Sri Lanka to boost the efforts by the island's Navy to prevent people smuggling in the Indian Ocean.

The Navy Commander received the first Australian Bay Class patrol vessel at a ceremony held in Cairns, Australia on March 29 and the second one on June 25.

During his visit Mr. Morrison will hold discussions with Sri Lankan authorities, the External Affair Ministry said. Mr.Morrison will meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa, several ministers and Heads of security Divisions during his visit.

The talks are expected to focus on the illegal migration of Sri Lankan asylum seekers, among other matters.

His visit comes amid the controversy surrounding the 153 Tamil asylum seekers who have reportedly been intercepted at sea near Christmas Island by Australian authorities and handed over to Sri Lankan navy.

Both Australia and Sri Lanka have kept silent on the said transfer while the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR and human rights groups have raised concerns regarding the fate of the asylum seekers.

Mr. Morrision has refused to deny or confirm the affair saying he does not discuss operational matters in line with the Government's Operation Sovereign Borders policy.

Meanwhile, Tamil groups in Australia accused the Australian government of violating international refugee laws by handing over the refugees to the country from where they fled.

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