May 19, New Delhi: Australia, as part of broader measures to prevent human smuggling on the high seas, is working with India and Sri Lanka to rehabilitate Sri Lankan refugees interested in going back to the island nation, a high ranking Australian official has said.
Australian Border Force Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg on Friday said some of the refugees in Tamil Nadu state want to go back and Australia has an obligation to assist India and Sri Lanka to facilitate their return, according to a report in The Hindu.
"There are about 100,000 Sri Lankan people who fled to Tamil Nadu in the past... There are certain number of them who want to go back. We have an obligation to assist India and Sri Lanka in that resettlement," he told a select group of journalists in New Delhi.
Mr. Quaedvlieg said his force has been actively working with the Indian Coast Guard in countering smuggling operations to prevent Sri Lankan diaspora in Tamil Nadu from reaching Australia.
The resettlement is of interest to Australia in the broader efforts to prevent human smuggling and has committed $1-2 million for the resettlement over the next two years. "We want to ensure that the money goes for practical outcomes of resettlement and rehabilitation and sustain them once they return to Sri Lanka," he stated.
The Australian official said the issue of resettlement was under discussion for the last six months and expects to begin implementation in the next few months.
Mr. Quaedvlieg, who is accompanying the Australian Border Force Cutter 'Ocean Shield' which is currently docked in Chennai after visiting Sri Lanka's Trincomalee Port from May 16-18, met with Tamil Nadu officials in Chennai and held discussions.
One of the objectives of his visit is to continue discussions on the issue of resettlement as well as take forward the counter terrorism cooperation.
Australia had seen huge influx of refugees through the sea in the past. According to Mr. Quaedvlieg, 2013 was the year with highest arrivals into Australia following which the Australian Government began 'Operation Sovereign Borders'.
In the case of India, the last boat was intercepted in 2014 in which 157 people entered Australian contiguous waters. "The threat still remains… we are not changing our operational posture," he added. The issue will be part of his discussions with officials in New Delhi as well.