There are plenty of stories about asylum seekers paying big money to people smugglers for a place on a boat heading for Australia.
But Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner in Canberra Thisara Samarasinghe says in his country, the money is flowing the other way and asylum seekers are being paid to make the perilous journey. But he won’t be drawn on who is paying the fares.
In the past month alone, three boats carring Sri Lankan asylum seekers have arrived at the remote Australian Indian Ocean territory of Cocos Islands.
Admiral Samarasinghe says Sri Lankan security services stopped one boat carrying 113 people bound for Australia just three weeks ago.
Admiral Samarasinghe is speaking here to AM’s Ashley Hall.
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: Sri Lanka is continuously focusing on preventing Sri Lankans leaving Sri Lankan shores, headed for either to New Zealand or Australia. And this has been going on for about two and a half years and we have successful in preventing any boat leaving Sri Lanka.
Even the two boats about seven to eight months ago which attempted was prevented by the Sri Lankan navy through their continuous surveillance and continuous employment of efforts, time and money on this issue.
ASHLEY HALL: Who are the people on board these boats? Who’s trying to leave Sri Lanka?
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: Oh they were a mix of people who were persuaded to come over by various organisations who were trying to get them out of Sri Lanka for whatever the reasons that they have.
There were economic concerns and they have been paid…
ASHLEY HALL: They have been paid?
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: Yeah, in the sense they have not paid for the moment and we do not know the exact arrangements, and I would prefer to keep this information with ourselves or with the investigators because they are continuing to stop and that has resulted in the 113 people being stopped before they boarded a vessel.
ASHLEY HALL: But you have evidence that people were paid to get on a vessel and travel to Australia and seek asylum?
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: They have evidence. They have not paid, the racketeers, these human smugglers, these international racket band, they do this for various reasons – for money, for…
ASHLEY HALL: For money – how would they benefit financially out of paying people to pretend to be asylum seekers?
THISARA SAMARASINGHE: No, they get people to come and they will, in a greater network in getting people across and they show various concerns to countries, make some comments on various places.
So Sri Lanka been out of this terrorist conflict over three years now has become a (inaudible) place for people to stay and there is no reason for people to move other than anybody trying to see for better life in any other country for economic reasons.
But Sri Lanka now, after three years of the conflict, this one – they are absolutely (inaudible) for people to leave the- peace prevails in every place, development is taking place, job opportunities are there, unemployment in Sri Lanka.
And you have your high commissioner, Australian, to see the condition, nature of the Sri Lanka at the moment.
TONY EASTLEY: Admiral Thisara Samarasinghe, Sri Lanka’s High Commissioner to Canberra, speaking to Ashley Hall.