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Tuesday, December 5, 2023

Illegal migration attempts on the rise in Sri Lanka as economic crisis worsens

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ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s security establishment nabbed eight boats with a total of 351 illegal migrants on board in May 2022, mainly in the country’s eastern coast, attempting to leave the island nation’s shores as a worsening economic crisis led to a political crisis, a dearth of essentials and a sharp increase in food prices.

Human-smuggling has become a booming business once again as many Sri Lankans want to leave the country due to a gloomy economic and political outlook at least for the next half decade, political analysts say.

Police sources said most of the illegal Sri Lankan migrants are aiming to make it to Australia.

Since the first illegal boat was intercepted by the Navy on May 18 with 40 people onboard in the seas off the eastern Batticaloa district, Sri Lanka’s security establishment have arrested 67 people in the waters off Trincomalee, Eastern province, another boat with 26 illegal migrants in the southern seas and another 19 in a boat off the Western province.

Four boats were nabbed in total by the navy and other security forces in May.

The Australian embassy in Sri Lanka tweeted on June 6: “A timely reminder that whilst Australia has a new government, its border protection policies have not changed. #ZeroChance“. 

However, the illegal migration trend continued as Sri Lanka’s economic crisis worsened with growing queues for essentials and skyrocketing prices of food making basic foods unaffordable even for middle income people. Thousands are at risk of losing employment as many private companies are facing closures due to lower demand and a lack of financing to sustain the businesses.

“Most of these illegal migrants have paid millions of rupees for their journey. Nobody knows if it will be a success. Even if they go beyond Sri Lankan waters, it will be extremely difficult for them to do the same with other country’s coastguards,” a police officer who is aware of the probe into the recent illegal migration trend told EconomyNext.

In June, however, illegal migration attempts continued, with 15 arrested in a boat off wthe estern coastal town of Marawila and another 76 from the nearby town of Chilaw.

Yet another boat with 38 illegal migrants onboard were caught by the navy in the seas off the Eastern district of Ampara followed by 64 people attempting to flee the country who were arrested in the waters off Trincomalee on Wednesday.

Some Sri Lankans living in the island’s Northern province have already arrived in neighbouring India’s southern shores using the same method. These migrants have not been repatriated by India, unlike in the case of Australia.

Illegal migration was on the rise in 2013-2014 due to economic hardships and Australia came forward to finance boats and training for the island nation’s navy and coastguards to prevent such attempts.

Millions of Sri Lankans mainly ethnic minority Tamils have taken asylum during and after a three decade war claiming that they were unable to live peacefully in the country. They have settled now in Europe, the United Kingdom, Australia, India, the United States, and Canada. (Colombo/Jun17/2022)

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