Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has embarked on a lightning visit to Sri Lanka to conduct meetings on people-smuggling with the country’s President and Prime Minister, amid warnings of more asylum-seeker boats heading to Australia.
The Conservative Party has always supported efforts to maintain strong borders and has applauded the Minister for his initiative.
The Australian reports, Operation Sovereign Borders’ aircraft yesterday began three days of patrols over the waters near Christmas Island in a bid to find boats that might be on their way. The patrols resumed in February after a lengthy hiatus and the latest series of aerial surveillance missions is expected to continue in blocks over four weeks.
The Home Affairs Minister’s two-day visit to Sri Lanka is designed to signal Australia’s determination that there will be no let-up in a vigorous approach to border protection. He is concerned that more boats carrying asylum-seekers will travel from Sri Lanka to Australia after a vessel with 20 people on board attempted the journey last month during the election campaign.
Mr Dutton’s office would not confirm reports that up to six boats might have set out for Australia, with a spokeswoman refusing to comment on operational matters.
Making the first trip by an Australian federal minister to Colombo since the Easter terrorist attacks by Islamic extremists, Mr Dutton is meeting President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and his ministerial counterpart to discuss combined efforts to combat people-smuggling and terrorism.
“The purpose of the visit is to prosecute Operation Sovereign Borders’ interests and to engage Sri Lankan authorities on counter-terrorism matters,” Mr Dutton’s spokeswoman said.
“We greatly value the ongoing co-operation on regional maritime security.”
Mr Dutton blamed people-smugglers marketing a change of government for the May venture after the boat was intercepted by Border Force, sent to Christmas Island and then the passengers returned to Sri Lanka by plane.
As of mid-January, Operation Sovereign Borders had disrupted 80 people-smuggling ventures since its inception in September 2013. The 20 people on board the boat from Sri Lanka are the only known boat arrivals in 2019. There were 17 last year, but none between 2015 and 2017.