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‘Boats from Sri Lanka will not be settled here’ – Australian PM doubles down on asylum policy

File photo: Australian authorities stop a boat of asylum seekers.

Australia’s newly elected prime minister doubled-down on an asylum policy of not allowing any arrivals by boat to settle in the country, as authorities intercepted a third boat of asylum seekers from Sri Lanka since his election last month.

“People who arrive by boat will not be settled here,” said Prime Minister Anthony Albanese in Melbourne, as he defended Australia’s controversial and much criticised immigration policy.

“Very clearly, our system is in place, of Operation Sovereign Borders,” he continued. “We will be strong on borders, without being weak on humanity – but we will be strong when it comes to our borders. We will do, as Australia has done for a long period of time, we will look after our international obligations to do the right thing.”

His remarks come even as he allowed a Tamil family of four asylum seekers to return to their Biloela home this month, after fighting a long legal battle with Australian authorities. Albanese visited the Nadesalingam family and took photographs with the two young daughters. The family had been fighting against deportation to Sri Lanka, and fought a high-profile campaign with many celebrity backers.

Despite the Bilolea Tamil family being allowed to settle in Australia, Albanese highlighted how those fleeing Sri Lanka may not be able to seek refuge in the country.

“The right thing is not having a free for all, whereby people who turn up will be settled,” he claimed. “We understand that there are issues in Sri Lanka and that the wrong messages are being given by people smugglers. Our message will be very clear.”

His remarks came as Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil landed in Sri Lanka on Monday and met with senior government officials.

“Minister O’Neil will discuss with her Sri Lankan partners how Australia can deepen co-operation and assist Sri Lanka as the country faces very difficult economic times, as well as strengthening engagement on transnational crime, including people smuggling,” her office said.

Australia’s immigration policy has been slammed for years as asylum seekers, mainly Tamils, continue to flee Sri Lanka as human rights organisations around the world documented ongoing human rights violations and militarisation of the island.

Last year, a British tribunal also raised details around the role of the Australian government in Sri Lanka, which also continues to foster close relationships with Colombo, supplying the island’s security forces with five aerial drones earlier this year.

The ruling from the tribunal, which found that Tamils who engage in a range of political activities in the United Kingdom may continue to face “a real risk of ill-treatment or harm” if deported to Sri Lanka, sharply criticised the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s (DFAT) Country Information Report on Sri Lanka, stating “none of the sources are identified, there is no explanation as to how the information from these sources was obtained, and there is no annex containing, for example, records of any interviews.”

“Indeed, it is unclear whether any formal interviews took place,” the Tribunal continued.

“The report does not provide direct quotes from any source. In light of these matters, it is difficult to gauge the reliability of the sources which have informed the “judgement and assessment” applied to them by the authors of the report.””

As part of other more public efforts, Australia launched a website that includes video games and a film competition, supposedly to deter asylum seekers from Sri Lanka fleeing the island.

"The ALP jumped on the Biloela campaign, using the family’s plight to whitewash its own appalling refugee policies, while at the same time making clear to the political right that there will be no entertaining of humanity by changing the laws that condemn thousands of others," wrote Tamil Refugee Council member Ben Hillier last month, as he criticised the newly elected Australian Labor Party (ALP).

“We can’t let the new government off the hook,” he added. “We must continue the fight to end 'fortress Australia'."

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