10 January 2012

Australian visa concerns grow as Sri Lankan boat is intercepted

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The interception of a group of asylum-seekers headed for Australia by the Sri Lankan navy has justified worries that Indonesia's intentions to relax its visa restrictions will cause concern for Australian immigration authorities.

Australia visa

Could Indonesia's visa relaxations result in more boat arrivals to Australia?

The group of 22 Sri Lankan asylum seekers attempting to reach Australia was intercepted on Friday before they left the Sri Lankan port city of Tangale. This bid for asylum comes just days after Indonesia's announcement of their plan to relax visa restrictions from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As Indonesia has traditionally been a transit country for asylum seekers to Australia, the thwarted attempted has justified some commentators' concerns that Australian immigration authorities can expect more requests for asylum.

A spokeswoman for the Australian Gillard government said Australia was engaged in discussion with the Indonesian authorities about how the planned changes will affect Australian visa issues and that "Australia and Indonesia are committed to working together and with other source, transit and destination countries to develop regional solutions".

"The government will continue to monitor the visa arrangements and their impact, and will work with Indonesia to address and issues that arise".

While the Australian government has refused to comment directly on how the Indonesian changes will affect the Australian border, Leader of the Opposition Tony Abbott has expressed his concern that the planned changes can only have adverse consequences for Australia. "Obviously, nearly all of the boats come from Indonesia and if potential boat arrivals can more easily enter Indonesia, there is potential for a problem."

Rather than criticise Indonesia's intentions however, Mr Abbott preferred to comment on the Australian government, saying "It is the Australian government which has really fallen down on the job here".

Australian cabinet ministers are said to still be involved in ongoing discussions with their opposition counterparts regarding the country's offshore processing policy although the interception of the Sri Lankan vessel combined with the arrival of three further asylum seeking boats since the New Year is bound to have accelerated these talks.

These arrivals have prompted the opposition's border spokesman Michael Keenan to claim that the Australian government's attempts to stem the flow of people smuggling have failed and that "Labour must show some resolve, end their arms-wide-open policy and stop people smugglers by taking away the product they have to sell".

The Australian Visa Bureau is an independent migration consultancy specialising in helping people lodge applications with the Australian High Commission.

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