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Australian minister doubles down on borders after meeting another Sri Lankan war criminal

Australia’s Home Affairs Minister Clare O'Neil told reporters in Sri Lanka that her government’s much-criticised border policy was being enforced “more fiercely than it was before”, as she met with yet another accused war criminal last week.

“Here in Sri Lanka I have a very simple message: if you attempt to enter Australia by boat you will be immediately sent back. Australia’s border protection policies have not changed,” O’Neil said.

“I'm here to say very directly to you that Operation Sovereign Borders, the policy that underpins this, is being enforced fiercely, if not more fiercely, than it was before.”

O’Neil made the remarks after meeting with Sri Lanka’s fisheries minister Douglas Devananda, the head of the notorious Eelam People’s Democratic Party (EPDP), a paramilitary organisation accused of widespread rights abuses and war crimes that continues to remain close to the ruling Rajapaksa regime. Despite anti-government protests causing a reshuffle in Sri Lanka’s cabinet earlier this year, Devananda continues to keep hold of his post.

He stands accused of running child prostitution rings, abductions, murders and extortion.

Read more in our feature: Abductions, murders and prostitution rings – The story of Douglas Devananda, who is still a Sri Lankan minister

As O’Neil met with Devananda, Australia announced funding to install tracking devices on more than 4,000 Sri Lankan fishing vessels, as part of reported efforts to stem the flow of asylum seekers to Australia.

“Fishing vessels should only be used for fishing and not for other activity,” O’Neil said in a statement. “Australia and Sri Lanka’s close working relationship means that anyone who attempts to get into a boat and try to sail to Australia will be detected and stopped by border authorities.”

“Just in the recent weeks and months, the Australian and Sri Lanka Government has detected and stopped every boat that has tried to sail to another country,” she added.

The newly elected Labour government in Australia raised the hopes of many asylum seekers who were attempting to seek refuge away from Sri Lanka, particularly after Prime Minister Antony Albanese expressed his support for the Biloela Tamil family.

However, Albanese and O’Neil have made repeatedly clear that Australia’s much criticised policy on those fleeing Sri Lanka has not changed.


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