SRI Lanka’s high commissioner in Australia has endorsed the Coalition’s policy of turning around asylum boats as the most effective deterrent to people-smuggling.
But members of Australia’s Tamil community said asylum-seekers turned back to Sri Lanka would face persecution.
Sri Lankan authorities arrested 131 would-be refugees heading to Australia at the weekend, after intercepting fishing trawlers off the island’s east coast.
High commissioner Thisara Samarasinghe, a former navy chief, said turning vessels around at sea and sending them back to where they came from was the most effective deterrent for asylum-seekers.
â€œTurning the boats around will deter people,â€ Admiral Samarasinghe told ABC radio.
â€œI mean that is a physical barrier … they know that they can’t leave Sri Lankan shores.â€
Admiral Samarasinghe said once boats were turned around at sea there was â€œno other wayâ€ for asylum-seekers to attempt to reach Australia.
â€œThey are not well educated, they don’t have money.â€
Australian Tamil Congress spokeswoman Varuni Bala said sending back asylum-seekers back to Sri Lanka was cruel.
â€œTo address these issues, they should come to a genuine political solution,â€ Ms Bala told The Australian Online.
â€œIf you put people out of the fear of persecution then no one will want to flee their homeland.
â€œTurning around the boats is just putting those people in more danger of being persecuted.â€
While most asylum-seeker boats originate in Indonesia, there has been a recent spike in attempted crossings from Sri Lanka.
Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said Australia faced different challenges than Sri Lanka in turning around boats.
â€œIf you turn a boat back either in Australian waters or in international waters, under international law they must be brought to the nearest port of call by the rescuing authority,â€ he said.
That could entice asylum-seekers to sink their boats to prompt a response from Australia’s maritime rescue body, he said.
â€œThat is not the case in Sri Lanka … just as it’s not the case with any other disruption activities by a home country,â€ Mr Bowen said.
Additional reporting: AAP