(UDHAYAM, COLOMBO) – Australia is exploring options with the Tamil Nadu government and Sri Lanka to rehabilitate some Sri Lankan refugees in the State that will in turn reduce the number of refugees trying to enter Australia through illegal means, a top Australian Border Force official said.
Roman Quaedvlieg APM, Commissioner of the Australian Border Force, met Tamil Nadu Chief Secretary Girija Vaidyanathan on Thursday and discussed options including Australian assistance in rehabilitating a number of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees in Tamil Nadu.
In an interview to The Hindu, Quaedvlieg said, “It is in our interest that the size of the diaspora (Sri Lankan refugees) here is reduced; this in turn indirectly reduces that probability of further (illegal) maritime ventures to Australia. So, we are very interested in working with TN govt, NGOs like IOM, UNHCR, to ensure that there is a continuous resettlement program.”
Quaedvlieg said the government of Tamil Nadu has been extending its cooperation to Australia in helping reduce the number of refugees who are illegally making their way to Australia by sea. “There is a large diaspora of Sri Lankan Tamils who have sought refuge in Tamil Nadu; some of them have sought to enter Australia through illegal maritime means.”
According to him, there are about one lakh refugees in India, some of whom want to go back to Sri Lanka, while some have integrated themselves with the Tamil society in the State. There are also some who were born here who wouldn’t want to go back to Sri Lanka.
“Out of that cohort, there have been some who leave these shores and travel to Australia by boats through organised people smuggling ventures,” he said.
He added that while Australia was criticised for turning back the “boat people” – refugees who arrive in boats – he said the country had the third-largest pro-rata number of refugees. “We are escalating our refugee programme to 18,750 refugees per year. Over and above that, we took in 12,000 extra Syrians last year,” Quaedvlieg said.
Earlier in the day, the Australian Border Force Cutter “Ocean Shield” arrived at the Chennai Port. The vessel will be in Chennai till Saturday during which time various events are planned with the Indian Coast Guard for developing inter-operability between the two maritime forces. “Ocean Shield” was one of the many vessels that took part in the extensive search of the ill-fated MH 370, a press release said.