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Monday, January 09, 2012 - 10.06 GMT

Sri Lankan boat adds to visa concerns


The interception by the Sri Lankan navy of a group of asylum-seekers bound for Australia has heightened concerns that Indonesia's plans to relax its visa restrictions could lead to a sharp spike in the number of boat-people attempting the hazardous journey, the Australian said.

Last Friday, a group of 22 Sri Lankan asylum-seekers preparing to travel to Australia via Indonesia was intercepted by the Sri Lankan navy before they left the port city of Tangalle.

The group's thwarted bid came just days after Indonesia announced plans to relax visa restrictions on citizens from several countries, including Sri Lanka.

The number of Sri Lankan asylum-seekers arriving in Australia has declined over the past year, but in announcing an easing of the visa requirements last week, Indonesia's director-general of immigration with the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Bambang Irawan, conceded the new plan could lead to a surge in asylum-seeker traffic to Australia.

Last night, a spokeswoman for the Gillard government said Australia was engaged in discussions with Indonesian authorities about the planned changes to the country's visa requirements.

"Australia and Indonesia are committed to working together and with other source, transit and destination countries to develop regional solutions," the spokeswoman said.

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

The interception of the Sri Lankan vessel and the arrival of three asylum-seeker boats in the first week of this year has accentuated the urgency of the issue.

On Saturday, a boat carrying 119 suspected asylum-seekers and two crew was intercepted off the West Australian coast.






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Last modified: January 09, 2012.

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