/ 21 June 2022

A dash to Sri Lanka

Image source: Getty
Image source: Getty

Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil is in Sri Lanka to talk to government officials about people smugglers who are pitching Australia as a place to go to flee the nation’s economic collapse. Four boats have been intercepted by Border Force and Sri Lankan authorities in the last month after none since January 2020. On O’Neil’s agenda: talks with Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and Foreign Minister GL Peiris about what they can do to stop boats from leaving. As for what we can do for them: we’ve got $50 million in food aid/emergency financial assistance.

If you go online and search ‘Sri Lanka collapse’, you used to get something about cricket. These days, it’s about the dire situation the nation’s in with civil unrest, fuel shortages, soaring food prices and a lack of medicines as it experiences its worst economic crisis since independence from Britain in 1948. Failure is an orphan, but there are many factors at play… These include ballooning government debt (including big loans from China), poor management by the government, and punishment from global markets. Add in the prevailing/troubled global headwinds, and Sri Lanka’s 22 million people have been left short on the necessities of life. A recent United Nations World Food Programme survey found that about 65% of Sri Lankan households have been forced to reduce their food intake. So it’s no wonder many are looking to find somewhere that promises a better future.

Not if they seek to come by boat, the government says. PM Anthony Albanese says he will not change the policy put in place by the Abbott Government in 2013 of turning back boats. “We will do as Australia has done for a long period of time. We will look after our international obligation to do the right thing – but the right thing is not a free-for-all whereby people who turn up will be settled,” he said yesterday. Pundits say he’s unwilling to return to the days during the previous Labor administration when 50,000 people came to Australia on boats, and at least 1,200 died at sea. On election day, the Coalition sent text messages to voters warning Australia’s borders would not be safe and that “an illegal boat” had been intercepted. The new government is investigating the Coalition’s use of that sensitive information.

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