COMMUNITY activists would pay for United Nations sanctioned refugees to be safely shipped to Australia and deprive people smugglers of customers under a radical pitch to the Gillard government’s expert panel on border protection.

The plan, aimed at ethnic Tamils fleeing Sri Lanka, comes as a boat carrying 15 people slipped past navy patrols on the weekend and put out a distress call about 150 kilometres off the coast of Western Australia. Another boat with 49 passengers was later spotted near Cocos Island.

The Coalition seized on the rare arrival near the mainland to criticise Labor over the strain on border patrols. The tally of asylum seeker arrivals over the past two months is among the highest on record, with boats increasingly calling for rescue after two vessels sank in June, leaving about 90 dead.

The plan to fund ”free, safe transport” was presented by Tamil organisations to Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s hand-picked experts charged to find a circuit-breaker to the impasse around asylum seekers.

The panel, led by former defence chief Angus Houston, will be hard-pressed to move all political sides beyond the deadlock, with little sign of common ground despite negotiations in recent weeks.

The submission, whose authors include Tamils Against Genocide, blames the recent increase in boats leaving Sri Lanka on human rights abuses aimed at the Tamil minority, despite the end of the civil war three years ago.

About 1300 Sri Lankans have reportedly reached Australia this year on boats – about 20 per cent of more than 6500 asylum seekers to arrive.

”Tamils face persistent risk of arbitrary arrest and indefinite detention, disappearance, extra-judicial killing and severe and punishing restrictions,” the submission reads. ”We see little possibility for a reduction in outward refugee flows. In other words Tamils in large numbers will continue to seek ways, safe or unsafe, to leave the island.”

In the submission the Tamil organisations offer to fund free passage on ships to Tamils with UN refugee status. ”[This] will undermine and help contain the problem of abusive and exploitative people smugglers and the risks to personal and international security their activities entail.”

But the submission acknowledges any plan to fund ships to bring refugees to Australia would need a change to anti-people-smuggling laws – a shift unlikely to win political backing. (SMH).

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