Sri Lankan family returning to Biloela has encouraged people smugglers, claims Karen Andrews


EXCLUSIVE: Labor’s softer stance on illegal immigrants has encouraged people smugglers to send more boats to Australia, claims Coalition amid warnings detention centres will fill up fast with Sri Lanka in economic crisis

  • Three illegal immigrant boats have been stopped since Labor won power 
  • The interceptions are the first under Operation Sovereign Borders for two years 
  • Shadow home affairs minister Karen Andrews said Labor encouraged smugglers
  • More illegal boats are expected to arrive with Sri Lanka in economic crisis 

People smugglers and desperate migrants have been encouraged to make the dangerous journey to Australia after Labor won power, the shadow home affairs minister has told Daily Mail Australia.

Karen Andrews said more illegal immigrants are making the treacherous sea voyage because Labor is ‘unwinding’ Operation Sovereign Borders, the military operation set up under former PM Tony Abbott.

Her comments came after a third migrant boat since the election was intercepted off Australian territory following a two-year period without any attempted illegal arrivals. 

Nadesalingam and Priya Murugappan fled Sri Lanka after the country's civil war, arriving separately on people-smuggling vessels in 2012 and 2013. The couple met in Australia, married in 2014 and were both granted temporary visas settling in Biloela, where they had two daughters, Kopika, six and Tharunicaa, four (pictured on Saturday)

Nadesalingam and Priya Murugappan fled Sri Lanka after the country’s civil war, arriving separately on people-smuggling vessels in 2012 and 2013. The couple met in Australia, married in 2014 and were both granted temporary visas settling in Biloela, where they had two daughters, Kopika, six and Tharunicaa, four (pictured on Saturday)

Karen Andrews said more illegal immigrants are making the treacherous sea voyage in the belief the new Labor government will be softer and more welcoming than the Coalition

Karen Andrews said more illegal immigrants are making the treacherous sea voyage in the belief the new Labor government will be softer and more welcoming than the Coalition

During the election campaign, the ALP vowed to remove temporary protection visas to give migrants who arrived by boat permanent protection.   

Then, in one of its first moves upon taking power, it allowed a Sri Lankan family who have been fighting deportation for years to return to the Queensland town of Biloela where they settled while their legal battle continues.

Ms Andrews said since Labor came to power people smugglers have been given ‘encouragement’ to sell journeys from Sri Lanka to Australia for $4,000 per person. 

People smugglers now have enough encouragement 
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews 

‘The Coalition consistently said people smugglers were watching, particularly during the election,’ she told Daily Mail Australia on Tuesday.

‘People smugglers now have enough encouragement to continue selling false dreams to trick people into buying an illegal voyage.’

Ms Andrews – who served as Home Affairs Minister in the Morrison government – said Labor’s gentler approach would cause even more human misery. 

‘What this means is a greater likelihood of deaths at sea, our detention centres being filled with illegal arrivals, and greater cost to the taxpayer,’ she said.

‘The number of boats we’ve seen so far is a clear demonstration that the Labor Government doesn’t have a solution to their unwinding of Operation Sovereign Borders.’

Ahead of the election Ms Andrews said Labor’s plan to scrap temporary protection visas would undo a key pillar of Operation Sovereign Borders which was implemented to stop the boats in 2013. 

Several boats including this one have been stopped by the Sri Lankan navy while departing the country

Several boats including this one have been stopped by the Sri Lankan navy while departing the country

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (right on Tuesday) has insisted that he will continue to turn back boats

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (right on Tuesday) has insisted that he will continue to turn back boats

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has insisted that he will continue to turn back boats in line with the policy. 

Migrants on two of the boats intercepted so far were sent back to Colombo, Sri Lanka on a plane. 

The third boat was intercepted off the Australian Indian Ocean territory of Cocos Islands on Monday.

Several other boats have been stopped by the Sri Lankan navy while departing the country. 

An Australian Border Force spokesman said: ‘The Department does not comment on operational matters.’

Protesters shout slogans during an anti government protest rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Thursday. The country is in economic crisis which may prompt more outward migration

Protesters shout slogans during an anti government protest rally in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Thursday. The country is in economic crisis which may prompt more outward migration

Locals in the Cocos Islands noticed a ball of smoke on the horizon from the people smuggling vessel on Monday

Locals in the Cocos Islands noticed a ball of smoke on the horizon from the people smuggling vessel on Monday

Daily Mail Australia has contacted Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil for comment. 

Coalition sources said it was unusual that she has not said a word publicly on the issue since taking the portfolio two weeks ago.

Experts say more people will try to leave Sri Lanka as it suffers its worst economic crisis since 1948 with food and fuel shortages. 

Abul Rizvi, a former deputy secretary of Australia’s Department of Immigration, believed it was ‘reasonable to suspect’ that economic hardship in Sri Lanka and curiosity about the new government’s stance were the reasons for boat arrivals.

‘The people smugglers want to test the new government and they’ve got more than enough people who are in desperate straits to want to participate,’ he told the Nine newspapers.   

Sri Lanka is at risk of tipping into a full-blown humanitarian crisis as the country’s economy suffers its biggest shock in decades, the UN humanitarian office said on Friday.

The nation’s 22million people are suffering the country’s most serious financial turmoil in seven decades, with severe shortages of fuel, medicines and other essentials amid record inflation and a devaluation of its currency. 

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa declared a state of emergency in May, following a day of anti-government strikes and protests over the worsening crisis. 

It comes amid rising oil prices and populist tax cuts by President Rajapaksa.

A woman moves a gas tank as she stands in line to buy another amid economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka

A woman moves a gas tank as she stands in line to buy another amid economic crisis in Colombo, Sri Lanka

What is Operation Sovereign Borders? 

Operation Sovereign Borders is a military-led border security operation that was established in 2013 to deter illegal arrivals to Australian shores.

The hardline policy implemented by Tony Abbott’s Coalition government takes a ‘zero tolerance’ posture against asylum seekers travelling on people smuggling vessels.

Boats will either be turned back, set ablaze or seized with those onboard sent home or processed in offshore detention facilities.

The current Commander of Operation Sovereign Borders is Rear Admiral Justin Jones, who was appointed in February 2022.

Australia’s strict policy has received criticism from human rights groups with some opponents calling it illegal.

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