Election 2022: People smugglers intercepted by Sri Lanka amid warnings more will come to Australia


Fishing vessel carrying dozens of people is stopped by Sri Lanka headed for a ‘foreign country’ on eve of the Australian election – as senior minister sounds a warning

  • Fishing boat and dinghies carrying dozens of people stopped by Sri Lankan navy
  • Some 40 people, including four people smugglers, were apprehended
  • Home affairs minister Karen Andrews warned more would come after election
  • She claimed people smugglers were waiting for a change in government 

A fishing vessel carrying dozens of people has been stopped by the Sri Lankan navy amid warnings that people smuggling could ramp up after election day.

A fishing boat and two ­dinghies headed for a ‘foreign country’ were intercepted off the Batticaloa coast on Wednesday.

The Sri Lankan navy said 40 people, including four people smugglers, were apprehended for trying to ‘illegally migrate to a foreign country by sea’. 

Home Affairs Minister Karen ­Andrews warned people smugglers were hoping for a change in government and waiting for the outcome of the election.

A fishing vessel carrying dozens of people has been stopped by the Sri Lankan navy amid warnings that people smuggling could ramp up after election day

Home Affairs Minister Karen ­Andrews warned people smugglers were hoping for a change in government and waiting for the outcome of the election

Home Affairs Minister Karen ­Andrews warned people smugglers were hoping for a change in government and waiting for the outcome of the election

‘Only the Morrison government can keep people-smugglers out of business through our strong stance and consistency on border policy – no one who comes here ­illegally by boat will ever be ­allowed to settle in Australia,’ she told The Australian. 

Political journalist Karen Middleton said a source from the Sri-Lankan Australian community told her that overseas authorities had been using the boat turn-backs as a political stunt. 

‘I received a message on April 26 from a member of the Sri Lankan-Australian community saying that two boats were on the way,’ she told ABC.

‘He said that he had a friend in Colombo saying he had witnessed people being put on a boat by Sri Lankan police, that he alleged that Sri Lankan authorities had facilitated the boat and he said it was designed as an election stunt to arrive in Australia just before the election.’ 

Prime minister Scott Morrison confirmed a boat had been intercepted by Sri Lankan authorities.

‘That vessel has been intercepted in accordance with the policies of government and they’re following those normal protocols and I can simply say this,’ he said.

‘I’ve been here to stop this boat but in order for me to be there to stop those that may come from here, you need to vote Liberal and Nationals today. 

‘In the interests of full transparency in the middle of an election campaign, the Labor Party was advised of this and a statement has been issued by the border protection authorities.’ 

Millions of Australians headed to the polling booths on Saturday to cast their vote for the next prime minister. 

Ms Andrews said she had already met with senior Sri Lankan officials last December to discuss boosting joint-operations to crack down on people smugglers.

Home Affairs department secretary Mike Pezzullo also led a ‘table top’ exercise drill last Friday to test Australia’s preparedness to stop illegal boats.

Millions of Australians headed to the polling booths on Saturday to cast their vote for the next prime minister (pictured, Scott Morrison handing out flyers at Laurimar Primary School in Melbourne on Saturday)

Millions of Australians headed to the polling booths on Saturday to cast their vote for the next prime minister (pictured, Scott Morrison handing out flyers at Laurimar Primary School in Melbourne on Saturday)

Operation Sovereign Borders was launched in 2013 to stop people smugglers from entering the country. 

Some 12 vessels and 204 Sri Lankan nationals have been turned back since that year.

Ms ­Andrews has also bolstered international borders by setting up a new Border Risk Assessment Centre in Sri Lanka in December 2021.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he would keep Operation Sovereign Borders and keep offshore processing running.

He has also pledged to spend $407m to abolish temporary protection visas and introduce a permanent visa that will give visa-holders access to work, Medicare, income support, ­English-language classes and trauma counselling services.

The Sri Lankan navy released a statement revealing another 21 people had been arrested after the boats were intercepted.

‘Due to the ramshackle nature of the multi-day fishing vessel and rough sea condition, the fishing vessel has sunken while being towed ashore by P4443,’ the statement read.

‘Yet the apprehended group of individuals were safely transferred ashore by the navy.’ 

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he would keep Operation Sovereign Borders and keep offshore processing running (pictured, Mr Albanese in Melbourne on election day)

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese said he would keep Operation Sovereign Borders and keep offshore processing running (pictured, Mr Albanese in Melbourne on election day)

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